Wild boar attacks uncommon in Singapore

AVA gets one report a year; NParks advises people to keep a safe distance from boars
Audrey Tan Straits Times 6 Jul 17;

Skirmishes between wild boars and humans are few and far between, with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) receiving about one report related to an attack a year.

The authority was responding to queries from The Straits Times, following an incident in which a Taiwanese visitor was wounded by a wild boar about a week ago.

Ms Ding Yichun, 55, was walking her dog on a trail at the edge of Windsor Nature Park when she was gored in the leg by a wild boar. She received 60 stitches for her wound, which was 10cm long.

"In the interest of public safety, following the unfortunate accident in Windsor Nature Park, NParks has put up signs at all entrances to the park and along the trail to advise visitors about what to do should they encounter wild boars," said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, group director for conservation at the National Parks Board (NParks), which manages the park.

He said NParks will also continue to closely monitor wild boar activities in the area, but advised visitors to remain calm and slowly move away from any they may encounter.

He added: "It is important to keep a safe distance from them, and not approach or attempt to feed them. Adults should also ensure that young children and pets are kept away as they may be curious and approach the boars."

Wild boars are native to Singapore. A female can start reproducing at 18 months of age and produce four to six piglets a year, according to NParks.

"Their quick reproduction rates, presence of ideal foraging habitats and lack of natural predators contribute to their population growth. These days, they are increasingly spotted all over the island," said the website.

AVA said it has received feedback on wild boars in areas such as Punggol and Lorong Halus. Last month, a large number were spotted at a bus interchange in Tuas.

In January, The Straits Times reported that wild boars, seen in Pasir Ris Drive 3, were being fed by people.

Mr Wong said that, based on NParks' observations and research, there are an estimated 500 wild boars in Singapore.

It is uncommon for a wild boar to attack a human as the animals tend to do so only when threatened or startled, said Mr Ong Say Lin, an environmental consultant .

But he noted that as development pushes wild boar populations closer to humans, it is important to develop strategies that discourage the animals from venturing beyond forested habitats in the first place.

Mr Ong, 30, said: "Since the natural habitat of wild boars is the forest, a more proactive solution to reducing human-wildlife conflict is to discourage wild boars from leaving the natural habitats in the first place. This could be done through the enforcement of the no-feeding rule, or not planting plants which they feed on at the fringes of their habitats."

Wild boars are omnivorous but they feed mainly on seeds, tubers and young plants.

"If wild boars do not venture into urban areas to look for food but stay within the forested areas, competition for food in these areas may also help to naturally keep their population in check without the need for culling," said Mr Ong.

Estimated number of wild boars here

What to do when encountering a boar
Wild boars are animals native to Singapore. While their natural habitats are in forests, wild boars are versatile creatures, and can venture into urban areas as well.

Last month, a large number of them were spotted at a bus interchange in Tuas.

Like many other wild animals, boars tend to attack only if they are cornered or feel threatened. They can weigh up to 100kg and live more than 20 years.

Here are some tips from the authorities on what to do if you encounter these animals:

• Be calm and move away slowly from the animal. Do not approach or attempt to feed it.

• Keep a safe distance and do not corner or provoke the animal, for instance, by using flash while taking its picture.

• Female wild boars are very protective of their young and can easily be provoked. If you see adults with young piglets, leave them alone. These are potentially more dangerous because they may feel the need to defend their young.


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What happens to the salt collected from the desalination process?

Audrey Tan Straits Times 5 Jul 17;

Reader Andrew Ng wrote to askST after reading an article in The Straits Times about the construction of Singapore's fourth desalination plant.

"I understand desalination is a complex process where water is extracted from seawater. But I wonder what will happen to the salt? Will the salt be dumped into the sea water that makes it even 'saltier' than it should be?"

He added that the movie blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was built on a premise that salinity imbalance in the ocean led to the formation of catastrophic weather conditions: "I admit I am being slightly over dramatic here. But I am curious to find out if our quest for water independence will contribute to climate change, and thus global warming?"

Environment reporter Audrey Tan answered.

SINGAPORE - Desalination is the process of turning sea water into potable water.

Key to this process is reverse osmosis, which involves forcing water through a membrane at high pressure, so salts are removed from the water.

In Singapore, the salt retained through this process is discharged back into the sea. But it is unlikely to have any impact on a global scale, said a spokesman from national water agency PUB.

"Because the ocean is so large, and with replenishment of freshwater from rainfall, the salinity impact of Singapore's desalination plants is negligible on a global scale," said the spokesman.

The salt in desalination brine - the residual solution from the desalination process - originates from the sea, and the discharge returns it to the source, she added.

While this may not have a significant impact at the global level, it could have localised impact, she said. This is why the desalination process is carefully studied, with mitigation planned and implemented.

For example, when planning for desalination plants, PUB carries out environmental impact assessments and modelling to ensure that any impact is within tolerable limits.

"Once the plant begin operations, PUB carries out regular seawater quality monitoring at the discharge points and surrounding waters. PUB complies with the National Environment Agency's guidelines for discharge from the desalination plants into the sea," said the spokesman.

She added that Singapore's first two desalination plants in Tuas have been in operation for 12 and four years (since 2005 and 2013, respectively), and that long-term monitoring has shown no environmental impact to or change in seawater quality.

Singapore's third desalination plant in Tuas is still being built. Construction of the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant - Singapore's fourth - kicked off last month (June) and is expected to be completed in January 2020. A fifth desalination plant of similar capacity is also due to be built on Jurong Island by 2020.

At Singapore's desalination plants, the desalination brine is discharged through an outfall pipe into the sea in a controlled way, and is instantaneously mixed with the seawater in the immediate vicinity.

This process dilutes the brine and brings it to ambient seawater levels, thus preventing it from remaining concentrated in a localised area, said the PUB spokesman.

When asked if the salt can be collected for use elsewhere, PUB noted that while desalination brine can be further treated and salt recovered, the process is costly and uneconomical. Hence, Singapore does not do so.

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Keeping Singapore’s ornamental fish industry afloat amid sea of change

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 5 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE: In the far northwest of Singapore, narrow wooden walkways carve out paths along mesh-ringed outdoor pens. Each has homed hundreds, possibly thousands of generations of guppies, goldfish or neon tetras, before they are packed and shipped off to pet stores across 80 countries.

This has been the traditional practice of Singapore's ornamental fish farmers when it comes to breeding their stock – partly to save costs from the use of rainwater, and partly from beliefs handed down across generations.

“Most of these farmers have this perception that sunlight is needed to farm ornamental fish - to give that brilliance, to give those spectacular colours,” said Chief Operating Officer of the Apollo Aquarium Singapore Lim Meng Huat.

Part of the Apollo Aquaculture Group, the company has farmed and sold ornamental fish since 1969. It is also one of the larger hands in Singapore’s dominance of the sector worldwide.

According to figures from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade), Singapore’s ornamental fish exports were valued at almost US$69 million in 2007, accounting for over a fifth of the worldwide market then.

But recent years have seen the industry enter troubled waters, with export values falling to as low as US$43 million in 2016 – or a 14.1 per cent market share.

Local players say neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have eaten into Singapore's dominance. Compared to Singapore, these countries have cheaper, more available labour and wider swathes of land to farm on.

They also have rapidly-improving international connections, that have undermined Singapore’s strategic role in linking buyers from the west with suppliers in Asia, according to the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters Association (SAFEA).

“With the advancement of tourism in our neighbouring countries, they now have direct connections to Europe and the US. And thus they can actually bypass Singapore and buy straight from these countries," said chairman of the association William Chew.

He explained that the industry usually ships fish out on passenger aircraft, in order to meet delivery times of between 24 to 36 hours.

“It’s critical that fishes spend as little time as possible in the boxes. Because they do feel stressed - just like human beings when we’re packed in a tight vicinity,” he added.

But challenges also dog the industry from within Singapore's borders. Most of Singapore's 65 ornamental fish farms lie in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah on the northwestern end of the island.

Many are on land leases from the government that expire in 2021, with new tenders offered partly based on farmers meeting production levels and innovation targets set.

But with the industry largely comprised of rapidly-greying, first generation farmers with no succession plans, stakeholders say few are willing to dip into retirement savings for investments in new technology and methods - especially where results are uncertain compared to time-tested methods. This includes moving fish farming indoors, said Apollo’s Mr Lim.

"It's a new dimension. (Farmers) are not too sure if they can achieve the same growth rate, if the fish would be as robust, as compared to the pond system,” he said, adding that countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic have begun to do so.

This is also despite recent calls by the Singapore Government to do so to help mitigate disease risk, as global import regulations for ornamental fish continue to tighten.


Taking the plunge to experiment paid off in new opportunities for the Apollo Aquaculture Group. With S$300,000 from government enterprise development agency SPRING Singapore, the company developed its own recirculating aquaculture system that allows water to be filtered and reused in tanks - cutting down waste water disposed during water changes by up to 70 per cent.

This has not only led to significant cost savings and allowed ornamental fish to be grown and kept in smaller spaces, but also led to new developments that make indoor commercial food-fish farming a possibility.

The Group is currently piloting the system with saltwater groupers and coral trout, rearing them in indoor pools which can be stacked high and sold to restaurants across the island. Part of the costs have also been offset by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s Agriculture Productivity Fund.

Other efforts include those by ornamental fish giant Qian Hu Corporation, which ran its own research and development programme to invent its Hydra system. The technology uses electricity to neutralise the harmful effects of ammonia and nitrite in fish waste, in devices ranging in size from commercial ponds to home aquariums.

But these tend to be extended, possibly decade-long investments that not every player can commit to, according to the company’s Managing Director Kenny Yap. Adaptations of the technology have also seen use in the company’s edible fish farm in Hainan, China, enabling the fish to be grown without antibiotics and resulting in higher yields than the competition.

“If you’re too small, don’t invest in R&D. Just adopt and copy. You can copy from very many companies, because these kind of technologies are quite easily available,” said Mr Yap.

“If you’re so small and you’re struggling with the ornamental fish industry, you only have two choices – upgrade the whole system pertaining to ornamental fish breeding or rearing, or move totally into different things, be it edible fish or some other industry. You cannot spread your resources too thinly.”

“If you are sizeable and want to add in new businesses, and are confident in terms of using new technology, new systems, you can differentiate your business and look into areas like edible fish. (But) You can't do it overnight. The company must have this kind of DNA inside the company, that always looks for new things to do or new ways of doing things. If you always want to remain status quo, it's very difficult under these kinds of circumstances for you to continue to be able to earn a respectable profit from this trade," said Mr Yap.

But such efforts appear to be more exception than norm. Stakeholders say innovation has been driven mostly from within the industry, rather than local universities and research institutes. These institutes have scaled down efforts since the industry's heydays in the 1980s and 1990s.


But Mr Yap noted that recent interests in beefing up Singapore's food security through fish farming has also spurred renewed interest in aquaculture from the polytechnics.

Both Republic and Temasek polytechnics have started offering aquaculture courses in recent years, equipping students with skills that could help revolutionise both food fish and ornamental fish industries, in areas such as nutrition and the detection of disease-causing pathogens.

"Students are more aware as to what sort of behavioural patterns change when fish get sick, or even in coming up with simple-to-use kits that can actually allow the farms or the students to detect what kind of pathogens are making them sick. So with such kits, they'd be able to reduce the mortality and perhaps enhance the quality of the fish that is being packed and exported from the farms," said Dr Diana Chan, Head of Temasek Polytechnic’s year-old Centre for Aquaculture & Veterinary Science.

The polytechnic also hosted the inaugural AquaRealm exhibition and conference in June. The event brought academics, the ornamental fish industry and students together to understand the needs of the industry, and the possible application of their skills in the real world.

At the event, Senior Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon said such applications of technology and skills appeal to Singapore’s highly educated, technologically-savvy younger generation, and help generate more interesting and higher-skilled, higher paying jobs within the sector.

Fresh talent could also come from Singapore’s community of aquarium hobbyists, who breed pet fish in their HDB homes, said SAFEA’s Mr Chew.

“We are trying to see how we can bring these people into the market, into mainstream breeding business models. Because these people will be familiar with breeding fish in the indoor setting. And then these people will be more open to the ideas of breeding in an indoor facility,” he said.

In agreement was Apollo’s Mr Chew, who suggested the establishment of a platform to facilitate interaction between hobbyists and commercial farms.

“We may be able to forge a synergy between them, and the exchange of ideas could potentially lead to collaborative efforts in developing new colour varieties for the market which is definitely a boost for the trade,” said Mr Chew.

“We can even incorporate selective breeding programmes for economically-important ornamental fish species using genomic tools.”

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Agtech, the new farming tool to boost food security

PAUL TENG Today Online 6 Jul 17;

Modern farming depends on technology such as seed, fertiliser, pesticides, water, and machinery. These have formed the basis of the world’s food production systems for staples.

However, it has become increasingly clear to scientists, policymakers and development agencies that physical inputs alone did not guarantee that farmers can make best use of these inputs. Knowledge is required to make farms productive, farming practices efficient, and farm productivity more targeted.

At the same time, information-communication technology (ICT) has also increasingly affected the farming community. ICT is increasingly recognised as the means to capture and share knowledge and in the process, improve the efficiency of using production inputs.

For farming, a major challenge has been how to empower all farmers with the knowledge to use inputs effectively.

Agricultural technology (agtech), together with new digital knowledge capture techniques and new financial technology (fintech) groups, is fast changing farming by creating a new knowledge intensive agriculture. And this has implications for Singapore, which wants to boost the efficiency of farm use and improve its food security.

Smallholder farmers remain the foundation for Asia’s food security. These small farmers were responsible for using the first set of “disruptive innovations” in the 1960s, such as high- yielding crop seeds, fertiliser and pesticides to significantly increase food supplies.

However, the large, disparate smallholder population in Asia is geographically spread out and farmers work in diverse farming situations.

Each farmer in effect practises farming in his own way based on knowledge either newly learnt or inherited. So to get all farmers to equally manage well the use of the technical inputs available to them has been one of the biggest challenges in Asia — until the advent of ICT tools.

A recent report on The Future of Food and Agriculture by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlighted the urgent task of assuring that the world can meet the 50 per cent increase in demand for food by 2050. So it is all the more important not only to ensure smallholders have access to farming inputs, but also that they know how to use the inputs effectively.


A new impetus for knowledge-intensive agriculture is the increase in myriad tools to practise “data-enabled agriculture” — environment sensors, mobile computing, satellites and imaging, drones, wireless communication and even genetics.

The growth of knowledge in digital form, and the increasing capacity of small farmers to access digital information, provide opportunities not possible before to share timely information on farming environments and the required management knowledge.

This democratises the sharing of knowledge. It also has the added attraction of luring millennials and other new entrants into agriculture at a time when almost all countries are faced with the twin problems of an ageing and declining farming population.

This matter is equally important in small city-states like Singapore as in other large agricultural countries.

Two new words, “agtech” and “fintech” have crept into the discourse on modern farming. But are these “old wine in new bottles” or are they truly “new wine in new bottles”?

The growth in knowledge-intensive agriculture offers opportunities for new technologies, new physical inputs and new financial mechanisms to ensure these become socialised into the farming sector.

Agtech collectively means the individual technologies or a combination of technologies related to farm equipment, weather, seed optimisation, fertiliser and crop inputs, irrigation, remote sensing (including drones), farm management, and agricultural big data.

Agtech has gained widespread attention and considerable investment, with one pioneering company, AgFunder, estimating that in 2014 and 2015 alone, investments totalled US$7 billion (S$9.7 billion).

Urban farming is one sub-sector that has seen some “new wine” in the form of indoor farms using fully integrated technology for growing vegetables in controlled environments of artificial light, temperature, carbon dioxide, water and fertiliser.

Korea and Japan together have over 100 indoor high-tech farms. South Korea even has a government agency to provide oversight and promote agtech.

In Singapore, Panasonic’s indoor controlled environment vegetable farm grows about 40 different types of vegetables and has delivered such high-tech vegetables to supermarkets.

Another start-up, Archisen, is prototyping a different kind of indoor controlled environment farm using an Internet of Things approach and eventually aims to connect multiple such farms with cloud technology.

There are other commercial urban vegetable farms, each showing its unique use of engineering technology.

To incentivise investors in modern agtech farms, enablers would include longer or lower-cost space leases, one-stop approvals to farm in urban space, government start-up funds, and more platforms for sourcing private financing.

Singapore can promote more use of modern agtech by showcasing or piloting available agtech in partnership with local or overseas groups such as “AgFunder”.

But ultimately, adoption will depend on the enabling environment as farming enterprises need to show an adequate return on investment over an assured period.


Fintech companies now use new technology to provide financial services for innovations in farming, either bypassing or complementing traditional financial and technology players such as development banks and multinational companies as the main suppliers of physical technologies and knowledge to small farmers.

But it is the synergy of agtech and fintech that is causing great excitement for knowledge-intensive agriculture.

Countries with active financial centres coupled with proper governance such as intellectual property protection for new technology, will find that the changed landscape provides many opportunities to create new avenues of economic growth.

An example is Singapore, which has a “first mover” advantage in urban farming technology, and has already attracted attention from investors from other parts of Asia.

Singapore, with many centres of expertise in ICT, and being home to many financial institutions, has potential to develop into a major agtech-fintech player to generate new technology-based farming applications for small-farmer knowledge-intensive agriculture in both urban and rural situations.

Historically, farming has seen many disruptive innovations, such as hybrid corn in the 1920s, biotech crops in 1996, and now digital agricultural technologies and genome-edited crops and animals in the 2010s.

As experts at an Asian Development Bank workshop last month noted, knowledge-intensive agriculture has the potential to become the latest and most impactful game changer because it “connects the dots” to link technology, knowledge, the farmer and the financier.

The FAO report on the future of food and agriculture also proposed that new investments and new technologies are needed to meet the 50 per cent increase in food demand by 2050, and doing so will require US$ 265 million in investment a year.

It is unlikely that all this investment will be met by governments, pointing further to an important complementary role of fintech companies.

New platforms for connecting technology developers with investors are already starting to make their presence felt in Singapore.

Government support could help in establishing Singapore as a key player in the agtech-fintech space for agriculture.


Paul Teng is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He formerly held leadership positions at The WorldFish Centre, The International Rice Research Institute and Monsanto Company. This is adapted from another piece in RSIS Commentary and part of a series on the upcoming World Agricultural Forum (WAF) on July 6-7 organised jointly by RSIS.

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Malaysia: Two dead turtles found washed up on Sabah shores within two days

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 5 Jul 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Two dead turtles have been found in the Sabah west coast over the span of two days.

The Sabah Wildlife Department said it was alerted yesterday to the discovery of a female turtle, found dead at the Lok Kelia beach in Kota Belud, about a 90-minute drive from here.

Department director Augustine Tuuga said the team went to the scene after people shared the information on Twitter.

“Our checks showed that the probable cause of death was chronic respiratory problem as all respiratory tracts were severely haemorrhaged.

“No gastrointestinal tracts underwent significant changes although we did find some seaweed,” he said in a statement, adding the seaweed was a species grown for human consumption.

Based on the postmortem result, the 94cm-green turtle, aged in its 30's, might have visited one of those seaweed farms for her last meal.

Meanwhile, the department was alerted again to the discovery of yet another dead turtle, this time at Tanjung Lipat in Likas about 9am today.

Reports indicated that the turtle's shell had dried up and both its eyes appeared to be bleeding.

A witness, Mohd Razi Samsuddin, 16, said they saw the turtle's carcass, about half a meter long, floating in the sea around 7am before someone took it to the beach.

Female turtle’s death being investigated
The Star 6 Jul 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife officials are trying to determine the cause of death of a female turtle that was found on a beach in Kota Belud on Tuesday.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the turtle, which was estimated to be at least 30 years old, was bleeding from its respiratory tract.

“It could have been an infection. Our veterinarians are trying to find out what happened to it,” he said yesterday.

Augustine said the public stumbled across the 94cm-long dead turtle at the Lok Kelia beach, and the department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit later retrieved the carcass for post-mortem.

The female turtle is believed to have fed on cultivated seaweed before its death.

“While there were no signs of changes in its gastrointestinal tract, we found some seaweed – the type that is grown for human consumption,” Augustine said.

The turtle may have visited one of those farms for food, he added.

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Malaysia: Tar balls appear near Tioman diving spot again

ONG HAN SEAN The Star 6 Jul 17;

KUANTAN: Lumps of tar have appeared near Pulau Tioman again, marring a major dive site off the island.

Tioman Dive Association president Zainal Rahman Abd Karim said the oily droplets were spotted during a dive at the Pulau Tulai site on Tuesday morning.

“We did not spot it during an earlier dive but during the 11am session, the divers surfaced right in the middle of the sticky blobs and were covered in oil,” he said.

“The slick also clung to our boat.”

Zainal, who runs the B&J Diving Centre, said it was quite severe. “We will avoid the area on our next dive,” he said.

Reef Check Malaysia programme manager Alvin Chelliah said it was the second time this year that clumps of oil had appeared in Pulau Tioman.

“There was a small amount in the earlier incident and we managed to clean it up. This time, it appears to be worse.

“We do not know where it is coming from and how to overcome it. This can be bad for tourism,” he added.

Similar clumps of oil, he said, also washed up on the shores of Pulau Tioman early last year.

The Department of Environment (DoE), the Marine Park Department as well as the Rompin district council had been informed of the incident, said Alvin.

Pahang DoE director Rosli Zul said investigations revealed that the number of tar balls was small.

He said there were tar balls every year due to hardened crude oil that drifted in from the ocean.

“I have been told by Petronas that these tar balls are always floating around at sea,” Rosli said. “It can be naturally occurring and float according to the ocean currents.”

Authorities, he said, were on the alert and would move in to clean up should the tar balls wash ashore.

“But, for now, it is likely that the tide will take them out to sea again,” he said.

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