Best of our wild blogs: 9 Aug 18

Pulau Ubin Is Home, Truly: My National Day Message 2018
Wan's Ubin Journal

Happy National Day with dolphins, sea turtles and dugongs!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

18 Aug (Sat): Eyeshines of the Wetlands - Night walk at Sungei Buloh
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

2017 Year in Review – Residents and Non-breeding Visitors
Singapore Bird Group

Read more!

‘Some people think I’m crazy’: What makes Singapore’s ant-man tick

When the sun goes down, Zat Low collects creatures the rest of society considers to be pests. To him, keeping ants isn’t only a hobby, but a source of solace that’s provided much more.
Desmond Ng Channel NewsAsia 9 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE: The night-time is when this muscular man, sporting tattoos and an ear stud, goes hunting around void decks. He lives in Hougang but goes to HDB estates round the island, even those more than an hour away.

Mr Zat Low is especially likely to make a catch when it rains. That is when a queen ant would emerge from its nest to mate, and it would typically fly towards a lighted place such as a void deck.

Armed with a laminated card and a test tube, the 34-year-old tattoo artist would be all smiles when he spots his prize, like the time he found a queen crawling inside a lift.

He is not the only one hunting ants after night falls. Singapore Ants, a Facebook group of ant lovers and collectors he helped to start, has about 1,640 members. That is four times the group’s membership in June last year.

Unlike most other ant-keepers, however, he has even gone into forested spots to lure ants with a light box. But more than that, he likes the time alone.

“I love the night life because everything is so quiet. Everybody is asleep” he said.

I’m not scared of being in the forest alone. I think humans are much scarier.

His is one of the stories featured in the documentary Singapore After Dark, about people who come to life at night.

They include emergency call dispatchers, paranormal investigators and wildlife enthusiasts as well as an insomniac who prowls cemeteries to find sleep, and a joss paper maker who burns his goods for wandering spirits. (Watch the show here.)

In the case of Mr Low, his hobby has given him more than a unique perspective of Singapore by night, it has also given him a renewed purpose in life, “a lot of truth” and “joy”.


It started some three years ago when a friend, a bird enthusiast, showed him a bag of ant eggs he bought to feed his birds.

Mr Low figured that it could be a good business opportunity and decided to catch queen ants – recognised by their wings and swollen bottoms – to harvest their eggs as bird feed.

But after half a year, he found it too tedious, even though he reckoned that he and a partner who was doing the sales were each making S$4,000 a month.

From what he had learnt online, ant-keeping seemed more interesting – even former United States president Bill Clinton has two ant farms – so he decided to start his own colonies instead of selling the eggs.

But it was such a niche hobby in Singapore that he had to do more online research and get tips from ant-keeping communities worldwide.

For instance, it may take up to a month for a queen ant to lay its eggs. If it does not, it may not be fertilised, and he would release it.

He also learnt to build his own formicariums (ant nests) and now has more than 100 colonies.

Some of them are crammed into his room, while others are looked after by his friends from the ant-keeping community, whose members range from students to housewives to working professionals like lawyers and doctors.

They share tips about caring for their colonies and where to hunt for rare finds. Different HDB estates attract different ant species because of their location near different forested areas, explained Mr Low.

We’d never know what we’d find. We’re like Pokemon Go players.

His parents were initially sceptical about his hobby but now even wander into his room to admire his collection: Formicariums of different shapes and sizes surrounded by walls adorned with some of his favourite tattoo art pieces.

He is a favourite of his young nieces and nephews and cousins, who are curious about and in awe of his pastime.

Mr Low's room is adorned with tattoo art pieces on the walls.


Ant-keeping is more than just a hobby for him, however – it helped to save his life.

Three years ago was also when he was at the lowest point in his life. He used to have bad mood swings, which affected his relationship with his family and close friends.

“I used to be a very arrogant person. I had hurt a lot of people, both emotionally and physically,” disclosed Mr Low, a former gang member.

He became depressed, partly because he had also lost friends who had taken their own lives. But after he came to terms with his past actions and personal losses, he began to rethink his life.

“I found that life was kind of meaningless, but I didn’t want to spiral downwards to that,” he said.

Then I looked at ants, and I realised that they’re so small and are fighting for survival. What (about) me then?

His ants kept him busy, and helped to keep him from feeling depressed, even though some of his friends and relatives thought it was a “lame” hobby at first. Some people still do.

“Some people think I’m crazy. They say, ‘Why ants?’ But I find ants an enigma to me,” explained Mr Low, who remains fascinated by their social behaviour, hierarchy and caste systems, as well as the similarities between humans and ants.

Ants invented farming – 60 million years ago – he pointed out, noting that some ant species still farm fungus to sustain their colonies.

Ants also operate within a highly developed division of labour: Some ants are in charge of foraging, some defend the nest while others tend to the queen.

“Ants have remarkable capabilities. For example, some enslave other ants while others can show the highest levels of altruism,” said Mr Low, citing a species of self-sacrificial ants from Borneo that can explode themselves to cover intruders with toxic goo.

Today, he can rattle off the scientific names of ant species in Singapore – like the Polyrhachis beccarii (the golden ant) and the Dinomyrmex gigas (giant forest ant) – and their characteristics with ease.


Mr Low got out of his rut after about two years, through his ants and regular exercise, and is now focused on sustaining his ant colonies and building formicariums, some of which he sells.

These formicariums are typically made of acrylic plastic or aerated cement; the elaborate ones are decorated with crystals. He even has one with a music box inside.

A formicarium can be set up for as little as S$5 and can sell for as much as a four-digit figure, depending on the craftsmanship involved and crystals used.

It costs him less than S$50 a month to feed his ants, with a concoction of chicken, flour and multivitamins, among other things, that he formulated himself. For the ants’ “carbohydrate needs”, he gives them the blackcurrant drink Ribena.

He used to sell his ants but stopped doing so, even though a rare queen Dinomyrmex gigas can cost €1,000 (S$1,580) on the European black market.

He preferred to concentrate on acquiring and sharing knowledge about ants with the local community, including children.

He thinks that by educating more people about ant-keeping, he can “give people a glimpse of hope when they feel hopeless or helpless”, like how it helped him to rediscover himself and the natural world.

“My main purpose in starting an ant community is to make people understand that ants can be a pet too, not just pests,” said Mr Low, who now views ants as “sacred creatures” for saving him.

“I also have great ambitions for the ant industry, whether harvesting its eggs for food (a delicacy in Thailand and Mexico, for example), formicarium-making or making ant presentations to school. We can venture into a lot of things.”

Watch the webisode Antman of Singapore here. The documentary Singapore After Dark airs on National Day, at 10.30pm.

Source: CNA/dp

Read more!

Man jailed for trying to smuggle magpie-robins into Singapore in a bag

Channel NewsAsia 8 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE: A 25-year-old man was on Wednesday (Aug 8) sentenced to six weeks' jail for trying to smuggle two magpie-robins into Singapore in a bag.

Loly Herianto Tampubolon was also given six weeks' jail for causing unnecessary suffering to the birds. Both sentences will run concurrently, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said in a joint statement.

Loly was stopped by authorities on Jul 23 at the Singapore Cruise Centre when ICA officers found the two birds concealed inside his bag.

"AVA found that the manner of transportation was unsuitable and had caused unnecessary suffering to the birds," the statement said. The birds were seized and placed under the care of Jurong Bird Park.

Loly also did not have an AVA import licence.

Those convicted of smuggling animals and birds into Singapore may be fined up to S$10,000, jailed for up to 12 months, or both.

"Animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status and may introduce exotic diseases, such as bird flu, into the country," the statement said.

"AVA would like to remind travellers against the illegal import of live animals, birds and insects into Singapore to safeguard public and animal health."

Source: CNA/na(ra)

Read more!

Reflecting sun's rays would cause crops to fail, scientists warn

Research shows geoengineering method intended to combat climate change would have adverse effect on agriculture
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 8 Aug 18;

Proposals to combat climate change by reflecting the sun’s rays back into space would cause widespread crop failure, cancelling out any benefits to farming from the reduction in warming, according to new research.

By examining the effects of volcanic eruptions on agriculture – which has a similar effect to proposed artificial methods of scattering solar radiation through aerosols – scientists have concluded that such methods could have unintended consequences.

“[The research was to] find a way to examine the side effects of geoengineering without experimenting on the climate,” said Jonathan Proctor of University of California, Berkeley, lead author of the published in the peer review journal Nature. “[We found] potential adverse effect on agricultural production.”

But he said there could be other positive effects that were less easy to capture.

The findings deal another blow to proposals to use to reduce or delay global warming, which some scientists think may be necessary to stave off the worst effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Spraying or injecting tiny airborne particles into the stratosphere has been regarded as one of the prime possibilities for geoengineering, by reflecting some of the sun’s rays back into space before they can warm the Earth.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Solar geoengineering aims to cool the Earth by injecting reflective particles, shown in blue, into the high atmosphere. Photograph: Jonathan Proctor and Solomon Hsiang/Nature
The scientists studied the eruption of El Chichón in Mexico in 1982 and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, both of which caused large quantities of sulphate particles to enter the stratosphere. This created a “veil” which reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface.

In the study, the researchers examined the aerosol levels, solar radiation and crop yields. The deflection of sunlight had a negative effect on the yields of many staple crops, including rice, wheat and maize. They concluded that the impacts on crops of sending particles deliberately into the stratosphere would probably be similar, and that the beneficial effects on crop yields from the resulting cooling would be “essentially negated” by the loss in crops due to the reduction in sunlight, failing to remove the threat climate change poses to agriculture and food security.

Hugh Hunt, reader in engineering at Cambridge University, who was not involved in the research, said solar radiation management [SRM] was “no magic bullet”, but the effects should be compared with doing nothing. “We may well decide to use SRM to slow or reverse the melting of Arctic sea ice and to preserve the Greenland ice sheet. We will then be glad to have saved valuable land and the homes of millions of people from rising sea levels. Moreover, in an SRM world, agriculture will be sustained by a more stable and predictable climate,” he told the Guardian.

“SRM, rather like chemotherapy, is not something one would wish on a healthy planet. The Earth is sick and it is likely that any cure such as SRM will have unpleasant side effects. What we really ought to be doing is to halt the rise of atmospheric greenhouse gases, not just sometime in the future but now.”

Matthew Watson, of the school of Earth sciences at Bristol University, added: “It’s worth noting that this research only states that SRM would not necessarily improve crop yields and that there are other potential co-benefits and risks that must be carefully considered.”

Previous research has shown that the use of aerosols for geoengineering could have a substantial impact on weather patterns, for instance on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, or could cause changes in rainfall such as droughts in vulnerable regions.

In the UK, the Spice (stratospheric particle injection for climate engineering) project was set up as a government-funded university collaboration in 2010 to examine the possibilities of aerosol-based geoengineering. It ended in 2015 and is understood to have queried the potential positive impacts of geoengineering, though findings have not yet been published. An experiment to mimic the effects of such a programme was abandoned.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development in the US, who was not involved in the research, pointed out that the effects of sulphate particles can already be seen, as many coal plants which emit sulphates have been closed down. Cutting sulphates can produce a short-term warming effect, because the sulphates can deflect the sun’s rays, while cutting carbon dioxide emissions takes longer to have an effect.

He said: “There are other strategies for managing short-lived climate pollutants we should start with [including] cutting black carbon [soot, from fossil fuel burning], methane and HFC refrigerants. We need to think of climate change mitigation like a staggered race, where short-lived pollutants get a fast start and CO2 reductions eventually catch up and provide more and more cooling.” If these measures were taken, it could reduce temperature rises by up to 0.6C by 2050 and by 1.2C by the end of this century.

The research showed, he concluded, that “maybe we can keep geoengineering on the bench a bit longer while we figure out how to manage it safely”.

Stephen Salter, emeritus professor of engineering design at Edinburgh University, and an advocate of an alternative geoengineering method spraying the air to whiten clouds and increase their reflectivity, said: “The message is that we should not expect great agricultural improvements from stratospheric sulphur but negative results will be moderate. People who are hostile to geoengineering – there are lots of them – will argue that we are stuck with the results of stratospheric sulphur for a year or more and that there might be another Pinatubo or even something like the 1815 Tambora event, which gave the year without a summer.”

Read more!