Sunday 17 June 2012

NParks defends wild boar decision

Evidence of environment being damaged, says parks body
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2012

THE National Parks Board has come out to defend its decision to manage the wild boar population in the Lower Peirce area.

In a letter to The Straits Times Forum page yesterday, NParks said the decision 'was not taken lightly'.

There is 'conclusive evidence' of the negative impact of wild boars on the environment, it added.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, its director of conservation, wrote that the agency's researchers had found rare native gingers being devoured by the boar.

'We have also been receiving regular feedback from the public, up to five each month, reporting encounters with wild boars.

'Recently, we were notified that a pair of wild boars attacked a pet dog, which subsequently died due to severe injuries,' he said.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society, and two university professors also wrote to The Straits Times Forum page to support NParks' decision.

Dr Lum said the boars posed a danger to Singapore's forests because of their tendency to eat the seeds of primary forests.

'If our wild boar numbers continue to increase, and they are already above their natural levels, a century of gradual forest regeneration will be quickly reversed,' he said.

Wild boar densities in the Lower Peirce area are at least 10 times above natural levels, said Dr Lum, who cited available data and ongoing studies.

In a joint letter, two professors from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) also said it was time to cull the wild boar population.

'Vehicular collisions with wild boars are accidents waiting to happen... The chances of boars injuring members of the public are also increasing,' wrote Professor Peter Ng of NUS and Associate Professor Diong Cheong Hoong of NTU.

NParks also clarified that it had never considered the use of crossbows in culling the animal. It added that use of the bow is illegal in the country.

The Straits Times understands that the wild boar issue was discussed at a biodiversity roundtable last night. The event was attended by representatives from various groups including NParks, the Nature Society, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, and the NUS biological sciences department.

Population is surging

THE management of nature areas should be guided by ecological principles and scientific data. The National Parks Board's (NParks) proposal to limit the wild boar population is ecologically sound and well justified.

The reasons include:
-Wild boar population estimates made from already-available data and ongoing studies suggest that in the Lower Peirce area, wild boar densities are at least 10 times above natural levels (densities in the presence of natural predators such as tigers and leopards).
- Wild boars are principally seed predators, not dispersers. They are especially known to seek out large seeds to eat, and disperse only seeds that are too small to avoid destruction during gut passage. Primary forest trees, especially our most critically endangered ones, have large seeds.
Our forests are, through careful management and restoration, slowly recovering. But they are still vulnerable to disturbance. Increased seed predation by unnaturally high populations of wild boar will have disastrous consequences on the long-term viability of primary forests.
Studies by leading ecologists have demonstrated the devastating impacts that abnormally high wild boar densities have on forest regeneration. We should not wait until this situation is repeated in Singapore. If our wild boar numbers continue to increase, a century of gradual forest regeneration will be quickly reversed.

When any component of an ecosystem becomes too abundant in the absence of natural checks and balances, something that is 'natural' can also become harmful.

NParks hopes to restore the wild boar population to more manageable, ecologically appropriate levels for the overall good of the nature reserves.

Population reduction through culling is only part of a more holistic plan, and other suggestions offered - sterilisation and contraception - could be employed as part of a longer-term follow-up.

Once a decision to reduce the wild boar population has been made based on ecological criteria, the difficult issue arises as to how best to implement it.

This part of the debate is something that is for experts in wildlife management to explore, be they from NParks, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the veterinary community, or wildlife groups, among others.

The culling of wild animals is not a decision that should be or is being made lightly, and NParks has shown a willingness to adopt the most humane options to manage wild boar numbers.

Shawn Lum
Nature Society (Singapore)
ST Forum, 16 Jun 2012

Threat to public safety

WHILE the concerns over wild boar culling are real, the long-term challenges posed by the animals here are not simple.

Based on the available data, the wild boar population in Singapore has reached a level where active management must be proactively implemented for public safety and the conservation of our nature reserves.

We therefore support the National Parks Board's (NParks) decision to explore wild boar population control methods.

Unfortunately, Singapore's forests in our nature reserves cannot sustain a wild boar population without human intervention, because there are no longer predators like tigers and leopards.

Wild boars multiply rapidly, producing four to eight piglets a year; so their population will quickly reach unsustainable levels.

Without active population management, the wild boar will cause continued damage to the forest ecosystem from their natural behaviour. They are voracious feeders, eating seeds, young plants and even small animals. They also trample the undergrowth and prevent natural regeneration of the forest. Left uncontrolled, the nature reserve forest can only deteriorate.

In many countries, wild boars have caused major problems in otherwise healthy ecosystems. Hence, in conservation management, culling is a regrettable but necessary practice.

Recent observations along the Lower Peirce area indicate that the wild boar population is increasing and they are spreading to other locations like public roads, parks and residential areas. The size of the packs is also getting larger.

Vehicular collisions with wild boars are accidents waiting to happen, with potentially severe consequences. The chances of boars injuring members of the public are also increasing. All these signal the need to act with urgency.

We note that NParks has taken action to speak with various parties about the problem and identify a culling method for the estimated herd of 100 boars at Lower Peirce, which could double in number by the year end.

This targeted and consultative approach is sound and should be encouraged. After a humane method for culling has been identified, we recommend that the culling start at the earliest possible date.

Professor Peter Ng
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
Associate Professor Diong Cheong Hoong
Natural Sciences & Science Education
National Institute of Education
Nanyang Technological University
ST Forum, 16 Jun 2012

They destroy forests

WE TAKE a holistic approach in managing the growing population of wild boars ('Culling wild boar not the answer' by Ms Irene Low, Wednesday; 'Explore more humane ways to reduce wild boar population' by Ms Vilma D'Rozario, and 'More research needed on wild boar' by Dr Chong Shin Min; Forum Online, Wednesday).

We agree with Ms Low and Ms D'Rozario, who mentioned the need for public education.

Over the years, we have conducted public education and outreach activities on the presence of wild boars in our urban spaces. There are also 'animal crossing' signs along roads where wild boars have been seen, to warn motorists.

We will continue these efforts.

The decision to manage the wild boar population at Lower Peirce was not taken lightly.

All three writers asked about studies on the negative impact of wild boars on the environment.

There is conclusive evidence of this.

Wild boars trample and destroy the forest undergrowth, adversely affecting its biodiversity and rate of natural regrowth.

For example, our researchers have found that rare native gingers are being devoured by wild boars.

The natural behaviour of wild boars to dig up soil also compromises our reforestation and habitat enhancement efforts.

In addition, we have been receiving regular feedback from the public, up to five each month, reporting encounters with wild boars.

This is not surprising as an increasing number of wild boars have been observed at the fringes of our nature reserves and near residential areas.

Recently, we were notified that a pair of wild boars attacked a pet dog, which subsequently died due to severe injuries.

Ms Low and Ms D'Rozario raised other suggestions to manage wild boars, such as erecting barriers and sterilisation.

The feasibility of these ideas can be considered as part of the holistic management plan, but they cannot replace the need to manage the wild boar population.

We should not wait for a more serious incident to happen before taking action.

We have been consultative with our concerns by initiating meetings with nature and animal welfare groups to explore the most appropriate method.

Finally, we would like to highlight that the use of crossbows is illegal in Singapore, and it is not one of the methods under consideration.

Wong Tuan Wah
Director, Conservation
National Parks Board
ST Forum, 16 Jun 2012

Culling wild boar not the answer

IT IS a shame that the National Parks Board (NParks) is looking into culling wild boar ('Crossbows to cull wild boar'; Monday).

The proposal seems arbitrary and unnecessary.

In the absence of quantitative studies on the impact of wild boar on our nature reserves,

and current data on the growth of its population, the herd of 100 boars in the Lower Peirce forested area cannot be regarded as large or threatening.

This is bearing in mind that the animals were once thought to be extinct in mainland Singapore and have been sighted again only recently.

Our respect for wildlife must extend to their survival in their natural habitats. While such habitats are being conserved, we must also ensure that animal species are protected from human predation.

Although an encounter with a wild animal is potentially dangerous, harm is often caused through human provocation and ignorance.

The public needs to have a greater awareness and appreciation of natural animal behaviour, and be more tolerant of the few wild animals that stray into our urban territory.

Culling is just a short-term and ineffective measure to contain the number of wild boar.

As long as there remain breeding pairs, surely the population will continue to grow.

I urge NParks to work with the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society or other animal welfare organisations to implement a more viable, sustainable and humane solution, such as sterilisation or the installation of barriers, to manage the population and movement of wild boar.

Irene Low (Ms)
ST Forum, 13 Jun 2012

Explore more humane ways to reduce wild board population

DO WE have sufficient scientific data to convince us that our native flora and forest ecology are being compromised because of wild boars ('Crossbows to cull wild boar'; Monday)?

Likewise, do we have sufficient data to show how wild boars contribute to our ecosystems, such as by dispersing seeds?

Has a census of wild boars been conducted?

It seems to me that more study needs to be done before culling of wild boar may even be considered.

My discussions with fellow wildlife activists point to the fact that using crossbows as a culling method is inhumane. Numerous reports state that rarely is there a chance of an instantaneous kill, even with experienced archers. Instead, an animal hit with an arrow endures prolonged suffering before it dies.

Alternative methods, like contraception, could be explored.

Also, public education about wildlife needs to be stepped up. Signs such as 'wild animals crossing' should be placed along roads where wild boars have been observed.

And if culling needs to be done as a last resort, surely there are more humane methods. What about sedating the wild boar first?

I am heartened that the National Parks Board is open to considering this.

Vilma D'Rozario (Ms)
ST Forum, 13 Jun 2012 

More research needed on wild boar

I WAS disheartened to read that the National Parks Board (NParks) is considering using crossbows to cull wild boars ('Crossbows to cull wild boar'; Monday).

Prior to embarking on any population control method, there is a need to first identify and address the underlying causes of any perceived increase in wild boar population.

More research is needed to determine the baseline population figure and the roles wild boars play in our reserve ecosystems.

Increased sightings may not necessarily indicate an increase in population; extensive land clearance and habitat destruction for urban development have displaced much wildlife to the fringes of urbanised areas, and it should come as no surprise that there is increased contact with humans.

Wild boars are important to biodiversity. They are unique fauna in our region, and play an integral role in the ecosystem, principally as seed dispersal agents.

Before we truly understand their function and impact on our reserves and parks, any population control measures targeted at them should be carefully considered.

We need to remember that humans are merely cohabitants of a larger ecosystem and share some of our living spaces with wildlife.

I implore NParks to review its wildlife population control policies.

Dr Chong Shin Min
ST Forum, 13 Jun 2012 

Crossbows to cull wild boar population here
NParks looking at this and other options to curb animal population
By Feng Zeng Kun, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2012

Killing wild boar with bows and arrows may sound primitive, but the National Parks Board (NParks) is considering the method to curb the animal population.

The Straits Times has learnt that the agency met animal welfare groups last month to discuss using powerful crossbows against the animals.

It told the groups that the silence of the bows would avoid alerting the animals, which travel in groups.

In trained hands, a single bolt could also kill a boar instantly.

The method has been used in countries such as the United States, Canada and Thailand to curb their boar populations.

The Straits Times understands that most of the groups did not favour the method and considered it inhumane.

The agency said it would enlist the help of trained archers to do the job, should it decide to go with this culling method.

But it is also exploring other options.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) says it will meet the agency before the end of the month to present a plan that involves rounding up boar to sedate and euthanise them with chemicals.

The animal population has been on the rise in recent years, according to sightings by naturalists and those who live on the fringes of nature reserves.

Once thought to be extinct on the mainland, they have even been spotted around Kent Ridge - surprising researchers who believed expressways like the Pan-Island Expressway served as natural barriers.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, NParks estimated there are 100 wild boar in the forested spot in the Lower Peirce area alone.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, its director of conservation, said: 'They have been observed venturing out of the forest onto Old Upper Thomson Road and into the nearby residential area.'

The animals have been seen across the island in recent years, from Changi to Yio Chu Kang to Bukit Batok.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society, says boar are big and powerful animals which no longer have any natural predators, such as tigers, in the forests here.

'We have to cull them because otherwise, they will increase exponentially, and there will be more encounters between people and boars - which may not end well for either party,' he said.

He added that boar have a tendency to uproot and eat young vegetation, which could leave forests with older trees unable to regenerate themselves.

Mr Wong says that if the WRS plan is feasible, NParks will carry out a trial to ensure it can be carried out safely.

The agency is currently looking at curbing the population in the Lower Peirce area.

Other animal activists are not convinced culling is the answer.

Mr Louis Ng, executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), says NParks could sterilise the animals instead.

'Culling doesn't work because the animals breed every year. You would have to cull them every year,' he said.

Others advocate a mix of both methods to achieve the best and most humane results.

Mr Ong Say Lin, a National University of Singapore graduate who is researching the animals, says there is not enough data to know whether they constitute a threat.

A 2010 paper in the journal Nature In Singapore put the population here at 552, but the figure was derived by looking at boar population densities in Malaysia and Indonesia.

'There needs to be more information collected, both on boar numbers and their quantitative impact in the forests, before we resort to such culling methods,' he said.

In the meantime, NParks says the public should get away from the boar should they encounter the animals.

Acres' Mr Ng says a simple measure could prevent potentially nasty meetings between man and animal.

'Put up fences. Wild boar are big and powerful, but they can't jump,' he said.

* About 80 boars in Lower Peirce area culled
Some 30 to 50 boars left in area as NParks assesses long-term measures
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

ABOUT 80 wild boars in the Lower Peirce area have been culled, reducing the population there to an estimated 30 to 50 boars.

The National Parks Board (NParks) gave the update last week in response to queries from The Straits Times. It did not give a timeframe for the 80 figure.

NParks conservation director Wong Tuan Wah told The Straits Times last week that the agency is carrying out population studies to assess longer-term measures to manage the wild boar numbers.

"NParks takes a multi-pronged approach to wildlife management, including continual research, enforcement and outreach," he said.

However, "if a wild boar poses any threat to public safety, we will continue with targeted removal if necessary", he added, denying talk that the culling of boars in the area has ceased.

NParks started culling the boars there in 2012 to improve public safety and to reduce the animals' damage to the vegetation. Back then, it pointed to two incidents that year in which wild boars had attacked people in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Pulau Ubin. But some residents in the Lower Peirce area sent a petition to the authorities to prevent the culling, saying these were isolated incidents. Some also questioned if the attacks were provoked.

NParks estimated in 2012 that there were 80 to 100 wild boars in the 1.5 sq km Lower Peirce area. It said that, based on numerous studies done in other countries, there should be no more than seven boars there in a balanced ecosystem.

The NParks has said that after the animals are captured, vets will sedate them with dart guns and euthanise them with drug injections.

When The Straits Times visited Lower Peirce yesterday morning, there were few signs of damage caused by wild boars.

Residents said they still see the boars on occasion but fewer seem to be around. Mr Victor Sim, a 67-year-old retiree, said he has not seen the animals in weeks.

Other residents said, however, that the remaining boars appear to have become bolder.

"Sometimes, you see them right in the carpark or in the open areas. They don't seem to be afraid of people at all," said a resident, who declined to be named.

Some of the thick vegetation in the area has also been cleared and replaced with young plants. NParks has said it may manage the boar population by reducing its food sources.

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