Wednesday, June 29, 2005

AVA makes nightly rounds on Ubin

Mediacorp Channel 8 news just reported (at the 6.30pm news segment) that AVA officers are now making nightly visits to Ubin to round up stray poultry that do not return to their coops at night to roost. They are determined to ensure that there are no one domestic chicken left on the island. However, apparently these kampung chickens are so hardy and used to the night and in the wild that these tree roost-ers are not easy to catch. In this one report, AVA only managed to round up 9.

They also interviewed some of the poultry farmers and one resident, Mdm Weng Xiu Ying was exceedingly upset by the raids on the stray chicken. She said in the interview (according to the subtitles) that she originally reared chickens so that when her grandchildren visit she could cook chicken for them. When she found out that AVA were coming to catch the chicken the next day, she couldn't sleep all night. While on the surface saying that she doesn't mind them catching the chicken, in truth, she felt very upset inside.

There would most probably be a repeat telecast at the 10pm news on Channel 8. A search on Channelnewasia has yet to produce any archive records of a similar story in print.

The information cited above is based purely on transcription of the news broadcast and translated from Mandarin by myself and briefly verified by my mother who alerted me to the news story. Screenshots are taken directly from the news program by myself. Please correct me if any of the above is erroneous.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Seeking the green light for animal sanctuaries

YES Plans for halfway house on Pulau Ubin for confiscated wildlife get in-principle OK

The Straits Times, 24 Jun 05
By Chang Ai-Lien

SINGAPORE'S first wildlife rescue centre could be set up on Pulau Ubin, to provide a home for illegal animals brought into Singapore and confiscated by the authorities. The non-profit animal-rights group Acres has received in-principle approval from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to set up the shelter, which will house primates, small carnivores and non-venomous snakes.

'We can't go on giving these animals to the zoo, which simply doesn't have the room,' Acres president Louis Ng said on Wednesday. 'So the centre would be like a halfway house for the animals before they are repatriated to other countries, though we may have to keep some of them for life.'

But before it raises the estimated $500,000 needed to set up the facility, Acres is waiting for the Singapore Land Authority - which suggested several sites on Ubin - to get approval from the Law Ministry for use of the land, he added.

Acres, or the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said together with the AVA, it has rescued 60 wild animals since last November following tip-offs from the public. They include monkeys, exotic spiders and tortoises.

The rustic island of Ubin would be an ideal location for the sanctuary, as it would make it difficult for people who bought wild animals as pets on a whim to dump them there, said Mr Ng. All animals there would be micro-chipped, and the centre would have open-air enclosures for primates, and vets to make sure the animals are healthy. Members of the public will also be allowed to visit the facility on guided tours, he added, speaking on the sidelines of an international animal-welfare conference here.

Nature Society Singapore president and Nominated MP Geh Min, who officially opened the Asia for Animals conference on Wednesday, also highlighted Singapore's lack of a wildlife rescue centre. 'It's important to look at what happens when such animals are confiscated. We can't always introduce them into the wild,' she said.

The AVA, in confirming its approval of the centre, said confiscated animals are donated to institutions such as the Singapore Zoo, Jurong BirdPark and Underwater World in Sentosa. Major seizures are returned to the country of origin, while sick animals are put down humanely.

People with information on anyone keeping and selling exotic pets may call the AVA on 6227-0670 or Acres' 24-hour hotline on 9783-7782.

Source: Wild Singapore

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Orang Utan or...

An orang utan sighting was reported on Focus Ubin forum.

QuietBiologist wrote on 16 June 2005,

"Just wanted to say that i spent the day today at Ubin and admist seeing the usual things like wild boars that chase each other around and block off paths, Hornbills, Monitor lizards, Snakes,the usual monkeys...i saw an ORANG-UTAN!! Yes....i never thought they existed in the wild here!!! That was the best sighting to date on Ubin for me:)

I know they are shy creatures...i only managed to catch a glimpse of it but i am almost 80-90% sure it is one.. I don't think there will be any other primate locally at that size with that typical orangy-coloured hair...also noticed it had broad shoulders..

Was wondering wat was making that rackett in the i looked over in the general direction and for 1-2 seconds..i spotted it moving from one branch to another..As of now..i'm still quite amazed..."

There are still some uncertainty if the homonid sighted was really an Orang Utan. However, if anybody is lucky enough to see this "man of the forest" again, and somehow manage to take a picture of it, please email me.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Ever changing Pulau Ubin?

Ever changing Pulau Ubin? Frontline, TCS 8, 17th June 2005
Will it become another artificial island? Will the continuous development rob it of its rustic charm?

(Transcript of excerpts, translated and written by Tan Kaixin, Pedal Ubin! guide)

The Chinese settled in Pulau Ubin nearly 100 years ago, and they were mainly Teochews who fished or worked at the quarries for a livelihood. The island was once host to a population of 7,000 residents but now there are less than a hundred people living there.

With the recent poultry ban, what is going to happen to the people on Ubin? The remaining residents are mainly the elderly who depend on poultry farming for a livelihood.


Since plans were announced for a boardwalk at Chek Jawa, there is mounting concern that the construction at Chek Jawa will damage the habitat. The National Parks Board (NParks) gave the assurance that the impact will be minimal and the works will be closely monitored. The construction would only take place in phases, and the boardwalk will be prefabricated offsite before being transported to and assembled at Chek Jawa.

Prof Peter Ng of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NUS, is in favour of the boardwalk as it would allow more people to visit Chek Jawa and hence, develop a better appreciation to the unique habitat.

However, a spokeswoman from one group (Kaixin missed this part - email me if you know) begged to differ. They felt that not every natural habitat needs to be 'manicured' nor developed. They should be left alone for that is what draws people in the first place.


There are also concerns from the public that building amenities such as the new campsite at Jalan Jelutong and the bike park at Ketam Quarry for mountain biking will turn Pulau Ubin into another Sentosa. The rustic tranquility unique to Pulau Ubin would most definitely be lost!

The opening of the bike park might also destroy the habitat of the elusive red rattle lapwing, which was spotted at Ketam Quarry.


However, the wheels of development are already turning and there are plans in place to develop 50% of the island.

Some lament that Pulau Ubin is our link to the past and they don???t wish it to change while others think that it is inevitable.

Thanks to Tan Kaixin!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Farewell, Farmer

Pulau Ubin says goodbye to its chickens and farmers

TODAY online
18 June 2005
Loh Chee Kong

THE birds have gone. Mr William Chen casts a casual eye at the fenced-up area, some 20 X 20m, where his chicken, ducks and turkeys once ran freely.

"What's there to remember?" he says with a shrug. "What's past is past."

The ban on poultry farming on Pulau Ubin officially took effect yesterday. For the romantics who speak wistfully about Ubin's rustic charms, it marked the passing of an age.

But for several farmers, the process of change had started years ago. Perhaps a kampung by Singapore's shores is too much of an oddity. The 75-year-old Mr Chen is shedding no tears as he prepares to leave the island where he first settled as a 14-year-old during the Japanese occupation. Before the end of this year, he will move in with his son to start a new life here.

As someone who is 100 years old, with a lifetime of memories inside him, you might expect Mr Tan Hai Liang to rage against change.

But as the government is compensating farmers on Pulau Ubin to give up their farming licences, Mr Tan is surprisingly upbeat. Or just pragmatic.

Speaking slowly, in Hokkien he said: "It's good the government is taking over."

He explained: "Already, there are fewer and fewer homes here."

According to the 1970 census, the population of Pulau Ubin was 2,028. Now, villagers say, less than 100 families remain.

Times have changed. Once, Mr Tan used to rear about 400 chickens, not to mention pigs and fish, on the farms he owned. He said, "First, cannot rear pig. Now, cannot rear chickens. Earning money is difficult." And when wild boars attacked their plantations, Mr Tan remembers with bemusement that they were told they couldn't shoot them. "Cannot shoot wild boars. Cannot rear chickens, " he said with a hearty

The fact is that living off the land - the only way of life that many Ubin residents knew - was becoming increasingly untenable. Take Mr Chong See Sua, 52, who plans to use the compensation to apply for a new flat. The father of a seven-year-old boy has been losing money on his farm.

To make ends meet, he has been operating a bumboat for six years while juggling several other odd jobs. In a sense, Mr Chong and other farmers have known for a while that they were living on borrowed time.

They don't even own the land that their houses and farms sit on. It is state land and the residents were issued a licence to occupy it temporarily.

Said Mr Chong: "I can't sell my house because nobody wants to buy it, knowing that the government can always take back the land and not compensate you a cent. All I can do is wait to be chased out. So, I'm thankful now."

He had found himself increasingly hemmed in, while he options ran out.

Mr Chong lives in a hut near Kekek Quarry which faces the Johor Straits. It is kilometres away from the main jetty, so some years back he thought of building a small jetty in front of his house. He was still toying with the idea when tall metal fences were erected along the coast to keep illegal immigrants away.

"Now, I can't even come back to my house directly," said Mr Chong. "I have to cycle such a long distance from the main jetty. It's like you live in Pasir Ris and they say you can only go home from Punggol Road."

The 75-year-old Mr Chen understands the feeling. "I've never dared to make my house better," he said. "You never know when the government will take it away."

Apart from living in a limbo, the farmers faced a very basic problem. There simply wasn't enough money to be made. One resident, who wanted to be known only as Mr Soh, has been renting a piece of land for $1, 000 per month since. He used to rear about 500 chickens on it and made about $400 every month, after paying his expenses. He stopped two years back because of poor business. Since then, he gets by doing odd jobs. And now he is in an odd fix.

While full-time farmers will be offered compensation of $26,000 to give up their farming licences, as well as further payment for their homes and farm structures, Mr Soh, who is 60, gets nothing. The licence, after all, was not in his name.

As he looks at the remains of the fully-covered bird cage he had built and the $4,000 incubator that is now useless, he says: "What can I live on? Three meals a day is difficult. I'm not asking for much. Just compensate me for all the money I've put in."

That is unlikely to happen - and other farmers sympathise with him.

But they are glad that their own struggle is over and it is time to move on. Five out of the nine licensed farmer have already accepted the government's offer. "At least I can get some compensation before I die," said the 100-year-old Mr Tan.

Thanks to N Sivasothi for the alert.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ban on rearing of live poultry on Pulau Ubin kicks in

By Wong Siew Ying/Li Siew Li
Channel NewsAsia
17 Jun 05

SINGAPORE : It is now against the law to rear poultry on Pulau Ubin, but some chickens were still found running free in a few backyards on Friday.

Officers from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority rounded up six chickens and a chick during a visit to the island. They are now trying to get in touch with owner Lim Seng Kwu, to make payment for the poultry. Another resident, Choo Chee Heng, sold the last two of his feathered friends, which had run away previously.

Said Mr Choo, "If we continue to rear them, we could be fined S$10,000 or jailed for two years." So will they have to pay the price for missing the deadline?

Said Goh Shih Yong, assistant director of corporate communications at AVA, "No. They have all the while been so helpful in helping us to round up the chickens so we should not penalise them for it. AVA will come off and on again and work together with the residents to capture these stray chickens."

With the chickens gone, many licensed farmers are planning to move on. Five out of nine farmers want to be resettled while the rest have till July 4 to decide.

Nature lovers say the absence of live poultry will not ruin the flavour of Pulau Ubin. "We come here to look at the environment, enjoy nature. It's more than the poultry," said one visitor. "When you go close to nature, without the chickens or ducks, there are many other things that surround you," another said.

Some of the restaurants on the island used to serve ‘kampong’ chicken dishes. With the ban in place, they will now have to buy chickens from the Singapore mainland. Restaurant owners say this has caused some inconvenience, but thankfully, no significant increase in cost.

All poultry sheds on the island will be demolished by August 15. An ostrich and two peacocks are also expected to be transported to the bird park in 10 days.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ubin ostrich saved from chopping block

100kg pet bird escapes poultry cull with offer of new home at bird park
By Chang Ai-Lien.
The Straits Times.

FOR a while, its fate hung in the balance, but now the heftiest member of Pulau Ubin's poultry family has been given a last-minute reprieve from the chopping block.

The ostrich, reared by the headman's son, will be adopted by Jurong BirdPark, along with two peacocks.

'The bird has grown so big, it's good if it goes to a good home where it can get proper care,' said owner Lim Choo Zi, 78, in Mandarin.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) recently banned all poultry on Ubin, including the ostrich, as part of ongoing efforts to keep the deadly bird flu out of Singapore.

On Tuesday, Mr Lim's handful of remaining chickens were rounded up and taken away for slaughter. The same day, the AVA and Poultry Merchants' Association bought most of
Ubin's remaining poultry - what was left of 300 chickens, ducks and geese - before the ban takes effect tomorrow.

Mr Lim has been caring for the male ostrich for a year, since his wife was given the half-grown bird by a friend.

'I had no idea it would grow so big,' he said, pointing at the bird, which is now 2m tall and eats 7kg of chicken feed and two coconuts a day.

AVA's assistant director of corporate communications Goh Shih Yong started the life-saving action when the deadline for the ostrich's removal was pending.

'This was a family pet and it would have been a pity to put it down, so I decided to ask Jurong BirdPark for help,' he said.

Mr Lim said the ostrich, which weighs about 100kg, is tame. Even so, moving it to the main island will be quite a task. Since it tends to follow Mr Lim around, he will lure it into a specially constructed box, before it is sent across by boat.

The AVA will also work with the park to make sure the ostrich is healthy and disease-free. It will be quarantined for a month before being introduced to the other ostriches there.

Dr Wong Hon Mun, executive director of Jurong BirdPark, said the ostrich will join the park's existing group of three females and one male.

'This is part of our bird conservation programme. As far as possible we want to preserve exotic birds, and ostriches are a rare sight here.'

Including those at the zoo, there are fewer than 10 ostriches - the world's biggest bird - here.

And it is hoped the new addition will be a father soon.

The park's male bird, which is at least 20 years old, has not helped expand the family for several years and eggs produced have not been fertile, said Dr Wong.

'We hope that the young male, which we're calling Ubin, will do what the older one can't seem to, and help to introduce some new bloodlines into our ostriches.'

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Big poultry round-up at Ubin

As ban looms on Friday, nine farms emptied to keep bird flu virus away
By Chang Ai-Lien
June 15, 2005

OFFICIALS rounded up most of the remaining poultry on Pulau Ubin yesterday, buying what was left of the 300 chickens, ducks and geese for slaughter before the poultry ban on the island takes effect on Friday.

The move is part of Singapore's efforts to keep the deadly bird flu at bay, as backyard farming in the region has been blamed for recent outbreaks.

It is also the end of an era for poultry farmers like Mr Vincent Chew, whose family has reared chickens - several thousand during its heyday - for over 50 years.

'This is the responsible thing to do,' said the 38-year-old, who sold his last 10 chickens to friends over the weekend. They had rushed over for their final chance to savour tasty kam pung chicken after hearing about the impending ban.

Mr Chew's family, which operates one of nine licensed farms on Pulau Ubin, has accepted the Government's offer to resettle on the main island.

Five families have taken up the offer so far.

Full-time farmers have been offered compensation of $26,000 to give up their farming licences, as well as further payment for their homes, farm structures and improvements.

Most farmers and residents who spoke to The Straits Times yesterday shared Mr Chew's views, although some were sad to see the end of the line for their feathered friends.

'It can't be helped,' said Mr Hasan Ali, 45, looking on as the sole goose in his brother's house was taken away. The honking bird had acted as a security guard and snake-killer, he said.

The ban extends a restriction imposed last year, when the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) prohibited farms and homes on the kampung island from keeping more than 10 birds each. The animals also had to be caged. But this did not work because some people continued to let their fowl roam free.

Yesterday, most of the nine farms and 17 households rearing poultry sold their remaining birds to the AVA and the Poultry Merchants' Association, at market prices.

About 90 birds were caught in nets and caged, before being taken back to the main island for slaughter.

From Friday, no one will be allowed to keep, breed, sell or buy live poultry on Pulau Ubin.

The ban has not been extended to homes on the main island, where families can still keep up to 10 pet chickens, provided they are caged.

Singapore is on high alert for the deadly virus, which is endemic in the region and has devastated poultry stocks and killed more than 50 people.

The worry is that the H5N1 strain could spawn the next global flu outbreak, which could kill millions.

AVA officers will be conducting spot checks on Pulau Ubin and anyone caught flouting the rules could be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for a year.

AVA's assistant director for agritech infrastructure Chin Yew Neng said: 'We thank the residents for playing their part in keeping Singapore free of bird flu.'

The remaining few birds on Pulau Ubin will have to be removed by tomorrow.

The association's secretary, Mr Chew Kian Huat, said that whatever birds he
collected would be cooked and distributed among members of the trade.

'There are too few to make it worth our while to sell them to the public, but we wanted to do our duty to help keep bird flu away,' he said in Mandarin.

Copyright © 2005 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy
Statement & Condition of Access.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bird flu fears lead to Ubin poultry ban

Residents have two weeks to get rid of their birds; farmers offered compensation

By Chang Ai-Lien (The Straits Times)
4 Jun 05

THE authorities have moved to seal a potential chink in Singapore's bird flu armour, by banning poultry on Pulau Ubin. Residents on the rustic island have been given two weeks to get rid of their chickens and ducks.

'In disease control, we cannot afford to have half-measures,' said Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) chief executive officer Ngiam Tong Tau yesterday. 'If it's not done well, then it leaves a weakness in the system that could allow the disease to come into Singapore.'

The nine licensed farms and 17 residents who rear chickens and ducks on the island have until Junec 16 to get rid of them. The AVA will buy any remaining birds at market prices, it said. From June 17, no one will be allowed to keep, breed, sell or buy live poultry on the island.

Singapore has so far kept bird flu at bay, but it is now endemic in the region, with infections killing more than 50 people. Experts have blamed backyard farming for the outbreaks, and the World Health Organisation fears the H5N1 strain could spawn the next global flu outbreak which could kill millions of people. Singapore remains on high alert against the deadly virus, with both the Health Ministry and AVA monitoring the situation closely. AVA, for example, said samples of up to 1,000 birds have been tested for the virus every month since April last year. They are from local and imported poultry, birds from the Singapore Zoo and Jurong BirdPark, migratory birds and imported ornamental birds.

The ban on Pulau Ubin extends the restriction imposed last year, when AVA prohibited farms and homes on the island from keeping more than 10 poultry each. They also had to be caged properly to stop them mixing with wild birds. But some people continued to let their fowl roam free, despite checks and reminders from AVA officers. Also, the number of birds kept on the island has risen from 225 late last year to about 300.

'We anticipate that the ban will be in place for the next few years at least, because the disease is entrenched in the region,' said Dr Ngiam. Those caught flouting the rules face a maximum punishment of a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

But the island's wild, free-roaming red junglefowl - the father of all domestic chickens - has been spared for now. A species considered globally vulnerable to extinction, the shy bird is unlikely to transmit the disease to people because it runs at the sight of them, Dr Ngiam said.

The ban has also not been extended to homes on the mainland. Families can still keep up to 10 pet chickens, provided they are caged. Those at the Zoo and BirdPark have been vaccinated against bird flu, while those at the Botanic Gardens are regularly checked for the disease, he added.

The Government has offered to resettle Pulau Ubin's affected farmers. They will be offered standard resettlement benefits, and compensated for removing their coops and other poultry structures. Farmers who spoke to The Straits Times said it was getting difficult to eke out a living and they would consider moving to the main island.

Mr Tan Hai Lian, who lives on Pulau Ubin with his 100-year-old father, is one of them. The 58-year-old, who has a small provision shop and a 2.4ha plot with fruit trees, said: 'I used to have a few hundred chickens to supplement my income. 'Now, that is gone and it may be easier to leave Ubin.'

Comments from Focus Ubin Forum
(in reference to the above paragraph in bold)
Seagull writes...
"Today's Straits Times Page Three report speaks of some (very) elderly Ubinites understandably being open to leaving Ubin for the mainland. Such a report may very well present a far from accurate impression that it is no longer viable to maintain a healthy Ubin economy for Ubinites there - to therefore set the stage to depopulate Ubin of its Ubinites, and open Ubin to be transformed into no-Ubin.

No need to imagine the dire consequences. Do only visit our maga-bucks-spent-but-largely-stripped-of-authentic-Chinatown-residents-chronically-anaemic Chinatown - and compare its sorry stage with the bustling with authentic-Chinatown-residents-and-Chiantown-economy Chinatowns overseas to know why. Depopulating Ubin of its Ubinites would definitely be a massive step in devaluing Ubin whole.

The reality and the truth however is that with some SMALL money plus original thinking, commonsense and gotong-royong spirit - a sufficiently strong and sustainable authentic Ubin economy can be swifty developed to support a larger base of happy resident-Ubinites and their offsprings, from the unpublicised many Ubinites who are currently there and on the mainland who would want to live and earn their livelihood from Ubin-compatible activities on Ubin. These people do only need LEADERSHIP - which Ubin's current more than very elderly resident-leaders are understandably no longer to provide, after decades of sterling service.

Thus this appeal to persons who see merits in keeping Ubin-whole thriving and authentic for the long-term, to step forward and jointly craft out a no-busting-budget practical master plan to get Ubin and its Ubinites thriving again - for Singapore's sakes, their sakes and wild-Ubin's sakes. ...

Truthfully speaking. Invigorated Ubinites and Ubin economy will also mean an invigorated Singapore tourism economy - to appeal to discerning overseas tourists who want genuine stuff - and not some fako plastik makeovers.

Read more of Seagull's suggestions for sustainable and authentically and "uniquely ubin" revitalization on the island here.