Best of our wild blogs: 1- 2 Jul 2017

ButterflyCircle : Conservation and Education
Butterflies of Singapore

Field work – Counting sea urchins on the seashores of Singapore
Mei Lin NEO

Night Walk At Windsor Nature Park (30 Jun 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Dairy Farm Diary
Winging It

ICCS @ Nan Hua Primary School’s EarthFest 2017: Learning about marine life and marine trash
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Wide Angle Macro Photography with Mirrorless Systems
Macro Photography in Singapore

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Singapore's not quite the right shade of green

Jose Hong Straits Times 2 Jul 17;

We like to say that Singapore is a green place.

From Garden City to City in a Garden, it is hard not to notice the flora that lines our streets and neighbourhoods.

And just last year, global design and consulting firm Arcadis ranked Singapore Asia's most sustainable city.

All this combined might make one think that we are a green place. But I believe that we are not quite the right shade of green.

The parks that dot the island provide a pleasant getaway from the daily grind. And our zoo and wildlife attractions wow visitors with the animals displayed within them.

But at the end of the day, they present a sanitised, manicured - and in the case of the zoo, costly - view of the natural world.

Singapore is so much more than that.

Did you know that in our rainforests live the sambar deer, which can grow up to 2m in height?

Did you know that we have seahorses that gently swim beneath the waves that lap against our beaches?

Or that the purple swamphen, a large purple-feathered, red-beaked bird makes its home in northern areas like Kranji?

I have seen all these creatures, yet whenever I tell my friends about my wild encounters, most react with surprise.

"We have that in Singapore?"

It tells me an uncomfortable truth - that much of our society today is far removed from the natural world.

It is not for lack of teaching. I remember my secondary school geography lessons, where one paragraph in the textbook mentioned Singapore having more species of trees than the entire North American continent.

But I wonder how many of those sitting in class with me all those years ago actually recall that. It is one thing to read a fact, and another thing entirely to experience it.

We are a country blessed by geography - for we lie in one of the world's richest areas of biodiversity.

Yet we have replaced the rainforest that used to cover most of the island with an urban jungle, one most of us do not venture out of.

Some may think that the butterflies, flowers and otters that pepper our built environment suffice, that they fill the nature gap in our everyday lives. However, they are but a pale reflection of the full experience, and the benefits we gain are much less than those the natural world can give us.

From an economic standpoint - and of course we start with money, for this is Singapore - the natural environment keeps our world running, doing things that would literally cost billions of dollars if we were to carry them out artificially.

"Ecosystem services" is what science folk term it, and although calculating the exact cost of these services is fiendishly hard, the basic principles underlying it make sense.

Mangrove forests, for instance, prevent storms and waves from eroding our shores. In tsunami- prone countries, they save lives.

The December 2004 tsunami that devastated countries fringing the Indian Ocean killed up to 6,000 people in a coastal Sri Lankan village. In another village that was surrounded by dense mangrove and scrub forest, the death toll was two.

For Singapore, a low-lying island surrounded by sea, rising sea levels threaten our existence, and we spend huge sums of money on coastal protection.

We have also reduced mangrove coverage from 13 per cent of our total land area in the 1820s to 0.5 per cent today.

"Prevention is better than cure," so goes the adage. And until we understand what we stand to lose by clearing our natural habitats, we should protect them.

I do not begrudge us the progress we have made, for we are now among the richest in the world. But our development has come at great cost to the natural habitats we are custodians of.
Another reason to protect what we have left is exactly because of what we have lost.

And we have lost plenty.

In addition to the mangrove cover that was wiped out, Singapore's rainforests are now 5 per cent of what they once were. Development has also reduced our coral reefs by 60 per cent.

Yet, despite all this, so much remains.

I cannot stress enough how often I am amazed by the wildlife I encounter whenever I venture into nature - those creatures that can thrive only beyond our manicured parks.

From the giant clams to the flying lemurs to that one time I saw a pangolin casually crossing a gravel path in front of me in Mandai, encounters with wildlife have surprised me over and over again.

This is a surprise and wonder I am determined to bring to others. That is why I am now training to be a nature guide, and why I volunteered at the recent Festival of Biodiversity, presenting specimens of our wildlife to families and their children.

For how can we know what we lose if we do not even know we have it?

Lastly, and most intangibly, the wilderness grounds one. While training in Brunei during my national service, what I most remember was not bashing up and down hills, or navigating with my heavy backpack, or doing foot drills.

I most remember the ferry journey to and from our camp. Our boat chugged down a tea-brown river, many times bigger than any I had seen before.

It stretched endlessly in front and behind us, and at its banks rose an impenetrable army of trees, the air beneath the branches shrouded in pitch black shadow.

Aside from the motor of the boat, a vast silence surrounded us. I stood on the deck, looking at everything around me, and felt almost scared, almost insignificant, and yet, at peace to realise that there was this immense natural world out there, and I was but one small part of it.

Though it may be hard to believe, I have felt similarly in Singapore, on an exposed reef during low tide with nothing but sea stretching to the horizon around me, with small waves splashing against my feet, the sun rising and painting the skies in brilliant hues of red, purple and gold.

I suspect this is partially a generational thing. Whenever I talk about my nature romps, my father occasionally jumps in to mention his life as a boy when he lived in a kampung, where he would do things like catching guppies in the drain.

Singaporeans lived much closer to nature then - and also much closer to poverty.

I do not begrudge us the progress we have made, for we are now among the richest in the world. But our development has come at great cost to the natural habitats we are custodians of.

Do we still need to do this? I think we should pause and take stock of what we have left, and move to protect it before it is too late.

Remember that geography textbook I talked about earlier?

After mentioning the number of species we had, it also talked about the need to preserve our natural heritage for as long as possible.

My teacher then, nodding sagely, highlighted "for as long as possible", saying this showed how we recognise that we cannot protect the environment if the development needs of the people trumped it.

Perhaps it is time for us to change our approach somewhat. We have thought for too long that our needs are above nature's.

We should rather protect nature - not because its needs are above ours, but because we need it to live.

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NParks investigating wild boar attack at fringe of Windsor Nature Park

Jalelah Abu Baker Channel NewsAsia 1 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) is investigating the case of a woman attacked by a wild boar at one of its parks, it said on Saturday (Jul 1).

Madam Ting I Tsun, 55, a housewife from Taiwan, needed about 60 stitches for a wound in her right calf after the boar pierced it with its tusk, her son-in-law Kenneth Low said.

Madam Ting, who has been here since Jun 17 to visit her daughter who recently gave birth, was walking a dog at the fringe of the park in the Upper Thomson area on Friday at about 6pm, when the incident happened.

Mr Low said that the animal rushed out from among trees, injured her, then disappeared.

"She is doing well, except that she has a slight fever and is feeling lethargic," he added.

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan, who said that wild boars are "very shy animals" that would usually run away when sighted, called it an "isolated incident".

In this case however, the animal may have been surprised or felt provoked, causing it to charge, he said.

"The presence of the pet dog may have been a reason for the animal to feel provoked as well," he said, adding that wildlife conflict cases are rare occurrences in Singapore.

The location of this particular place is important to take note as Windsor is "at the fringe of the nature reserve," he said. He advised members of the public to give wild boars space to move away.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force said that it was alerted to the case at 6.55pm, and upon arrival, found that the woman suffered an open wound. She was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, a spokesperson added.

NParks advises the public to remain calm and move slowly away from wild boars should they encounter any.

"Keep a safe distance from them, and do not approach or attempt to feed them. Ensure that young children and pets are kept away as they may be curious and approach the boars," a spokesperson said.

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