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SAF to kill wild boars on Pulau Tekong

Straits Times March 25 1999 PIG VIRUS ALERT IN SINGAPORE A FEW hundred wild boar on Pulau Tekong will be killed by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel as an extra precaution, because of the current pig virus outbreak, said the Defence Ministry in a statement yesterday. "The SAF has taken the further precautionary measure of culling wild boar in Pulau Tekong, although they are unlikely to carry the Japanese encephalitis or Hendra-like virus." Two SAF camps within a 2-km radius of the abattoirs have also been fogged to curb mosquito breeding. Mindef said that military training would proceed as normal as there was negligible risk of servicemen contracting either Japanese encephalitis or the Hendra-like virus during training. All SAF training areas were also more than 4 km away from any abattoir. The statement added: "The SAF would like to assure the public that the well-being of its servicemen is of utmost importance. "In consultation with the Ministries of Health and Environment, the SAF is satisfied that the risk of SAF servicemen contracting either Japanese encephalitis or the Hendra-like viral infection while training in Singapore is very negligible." It added that Japanese encephalitis was not endemic in Singapore and there is very minimal risk of transmission here since the ban on imports of live-pigs. The Hendra-like virus is spread through close contact with infected pigs and other animals. All encephalitis cases in Malaysia and Singapore so far have involved people with direct prolonged contact with pigs.

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Singapore to Eradicate Wild Boar
Laurinda Keys, Associated Press March 25 1999 SINGAPORE (AP) -- Singapore will eradicate hundreds of wild boar from a military training island, the Defense Ministry said today, drawing criticism from environmentalists who call the move an overreaction to a virus scare connected to pigs in nearby Malaysia. “Based on the facts at hand, there are other ways of tackling the situation,” said Andrew Tay, executive officer of the Nature Society. The Defense Ministry and agricultural department officials acknowledged it is unlikely the wild boar carry either the Japanese encephalitis or the virus suspected as among the possible causes of 58 deaths in Malaysia and one in Singapore. The ministry also said the risk to servicemen of catching a virus from the boar was “negligible.” However, professional hunters will be hired to kill all the wild boar on the island of Pulau Tekong, where national servicemen train. “There is still a very small possibility, and we want to be sure,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Sukhvinder Kaur said. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control is conducting tests to find out what has caused the brain inflammation illnesses in Singapore and Malaysia. Those who died or became ill either lived in pig breeding areas or had prolonged, direct contact with pigs in slaughterhouses or farms. Soldiers and policemen in Malaysia have killed more than 50,000 pigs since an operation to shoot the animals began, the national news agency reported today. Nearly 40 of the deaths have occurred since January among farm workers and residents in the Bukit Pelanduk area in Negri Sembilan, about 60 miles southeast of Kuala Lumpur. Officials in the Bukit Pelandok area have also barred photographers from entering the area. Today, foreign reporters were kept away from a news conference by Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi, who heads a committee of ministers created to handle the epidemic.

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PPD to review abattoir measures
Dominic Nathan, Straits Times March 26 1999 PIG VIRUS ALERT IN SINGAPORE It will also relook how it selects farms to export animals here and says killing Pulau Tekong boars is justified THE Primary Production Department (PPD) will review how it selects farms to export animals here and relook measures to protect abattoir workers, said its deputy director, Dr Chua Sin-Bin. Speaking at the third daily briefing on the outbreak, he said the department will try to learn whatever it can from the current episode to make it safer, if possible. It has been suggested in media reports that abattoir workers should wear protective clothing, gloves and masks, as all the eight people who had come down with encephalitis, or brain inflammation, had direct contact with the animals. Dr Chua said that the department would study whether such protection was feasible or practical. "Nowhere else in the world do they do so in the slaughterhouse . . . Of course our people could be more careful in personal hygiene. That is something that we can get them to do and we will certainly be reviewing it," he said. The department will also be studying how it can plug any possible loopholes in the way it selects, checks and certifies the farms which export animals to Singapore. "No stone will be left unturned," he added. On the Defence Ministry's (Mindef) decision to kill an estimated 700 wild boars on Pulau Tekong, Dr Chua said it was justified as an extra precaution to protect soldiers who train on the island. Mindef said on Wednesday that the Singapore Armed Forces would kill all the wild boars on Pulau Tekong, although they are unlikely to carry the Japanese encephalitis or Hendra-like viruses. A Mindef spokesman yesterday said: "The wild boars have always been a nuisance. "Even if there is a very remote possibility that the animals might be infected, it is still an unacceptable risk as the well-being of our soldiers is foremost in our minds." PPD's Dr Chua added: "They are more of a nuisance on the island at the present moment, digging up the plants and roots, rather than being beneficial to the ecosystem of the island." "They are not of great significance from the environmental point of view." Asked to comment on the role of wild boars in the ecosystem, senior curator at the zoo, Mr Subash Chandran, said that because the animals forage a lot, they are important in dispersing seeds and they also keep the snake population down. "They do play an important role," he said. He believes there is also a small population of wild boars on Pulau Ubin and possibly even elsewhere in Singapore. 3   

When contacted, a National Parks Board spokesman said the board will work with Mindef to coordinate a survey to verify the population and distribution of the animals. "This will enable a decision on the level of culling that is required to achieve a manageable population. However, if wild boars do pose a health hazard, then more drastic action may be unavoidable." The Mindef spokesman said that trained personnel from a commercial company would carry out the slaughter, not SAF soldiers.

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Leave wild boars on Tekong alone
Straits Times Forum March 26 1999 I REFER to the report "SAF to kill wild boars on Pulau Tekong" (ST, March 25). Since these wild boars are unlikely to carry the Japanese encephalitis or Hendra-like virus, why must the SAF resort to this extermination campaign? I am sure that in Malaysia, where the current epidemic started, they do not shoot animals, apart from pigs, to contain the virus. Wild boars can be found only on Pulau Tekong and to Singaporeans, they are an endangered species. They should be left alone as they usually pose no threat to humans unless provoked. QUEK KWANG SER

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Reconsider Tekong boars decision
Straits Times Forum March 27 1999 I AM appealing to the Singapore Armed Forces to reconsider the decision to kill the wild boars on Pulau Tekong. The relevant ministries have already said that it is a remote possibility that the animals are carrying the encephalitis virus, so it does not make SAF personnel on the island more susceptible to the virus. Instead, I see extensive and constant fogging of the island as a more suitable precautionary measure. If race horses and the pigs at the zoo can be spared, I do not see why the wild boars cannot be too. Wild boars have been synonymous with Pulau Tekong for a very long time; it would be unfortunate to see all 700 of them disappear just like that. DESMOND HO SOON SENG

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Consider other solutions before killing wild pigs
Straits Times Forum March 29 1999 WE REFER to the reports, "SAF to kill wild boars on Pulau Tekong" (ST, March 25) and "PPD to review abattoir measures" (ST, March 26). While we support fully the Ministry of Defence's concern for the health of our servicemen and the peace of mind of their loved ones, we are perturbed by the drastic decision taken by Mindef to kill all the wild pigs on Pulau Tekong. Nature Society (Singapore) would like to express its belief that all other alternatives should be considered before such an extreme measure is taken. These are the facts: The Primary Production Department has verified that all infection cases so far involved individuals who have had direct and prolonged contact with infected domestic pigs. Mindef has also stated that it is unlikely that the wild pigs on Pulau Tekong carry the virus. Our soldiers would not have the opportunity to have such close and sustained contact with wild pigs during their training on the island. Wild pigs do have an important function in the eco-system of the island. Apart from other vital roles, they help regenerate forests by dispersing the seeds of many plant species. The wild pig is the last of the large land mammals still existing in our national territory. As such, it is part of our natural heritage and bio-diversity. The wild pig population at Pulau Tekong is the only known viable one of this species; its extermination would likely lead to its complete extinction in Singapore. Since Pulau Tekong has been designated a "nature area" in the Singapore Green Plan, the survival of the wild pig deserves consideration. In the light of the above points, we ask that the following approaches be considered: Advice should first be sought from bodies with the relevant knowledge and expertise, such as the National Parks Board, as well as institutions such as the National University of Singapore for other viable, less drastic measures. Given that the Japanese Encephalitis virus is known to be transmitted by the Culex mosquito, it would be more prudent to concentrate on vector control methods to eliminate the Culex mosquito in training areas, rather than engage in the wanton slaughter of the entire wild pig population. In conjunction with the wild pig survey to be conducted jointly by Mindef and the National Parks Board, wild pigs could be trapped and blood samples taken to test for the virus. If found to be infected, the elimination of wild pigs on Pulau Tekong will then be justified. Human health is of paramount concern, but the extermination of an entire animal population in the wild has wide-ranging implications.

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It is a step that must be resorted to only after all other avenues have been explored and found wanting. EVELYN NG MUI KHIM Honorary Secretary Nature Society (Singapore)

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Spare Tekong wild boars
Straits Times Forum April 1 1999 I REFER to the Nature Society's (Singapore) letter "Consider other solutions before killing wild pigs" (ST, March 29). The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) supports the views expressed in the letter and hopes that the authorities will take up the suggestions put forward to preserve the life of these animals. DEIRDRE MOSS (Ms) Executive Officer Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

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Wild boars culled to trim population
Straits Times Forum April 1 1999 I REFER to the letters urging Mindef to reconsider the culling of wild boars on Pulau Tekong. The intention behind the culling is to control the population of wild boars, not eradicate them. Culling was a decision taken after alternative methods to control the population of wild boars on Tekong, such as trying to remove their food sources, yielded no results. With no natural predators on the island, the wild boar population has been increasing steadily. While wild boars contribute to the bio-diversity of Tekong, they also cause destruction to soil and plant life in their search for food. They contaminate water sources and create holes in the ground when foraging for food. These holes are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and a potential source of malaria. The decision to cull wild boars preceded the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis (JE) and the Hendra-like virus in Malaysia. It was taken after very careful deliberation and consultation with the Ministry of Health, the Singapore Zoological Gardens and the Primary Production Department. Mindef is working closely with the National Parks Board on the culling process. I would like to stress that Mindef takes steps to ensure that the bio-diversity of our training areas are left intact as much as possible. The culling of wild boars is a measure that is being taken in the interest of our servicemen. GOH CHEE KONG (Colonel) Director Public Affairs Ministry of Defence

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Spare them: Wild boars on Pulau Tekong
Straits Times April 16 1999 INSTEAD of killing the wild boars on Pulau Tekong, why not catch and test them for the virus, suggested Nominated MP Simon Tay. Responding, National Development Minister Lim Hng Kiang said: "If they can be tested for the disease ... then they cannot be wild boars, they'd be tame boars." Mr Tay wanted the estimated 700 wild boars on the island to be caught and tested rather than killed. Welcoming the break from the usual questions he faced on housing policy, Mr Lim said: "Its a pleasure to be talking about pigs rather than HDB flats, but I'm afraid that wild boars do not quite come under my ministry." He added that the island was over-populated with wild boars and the Defence Ministry was taking this opportunity to cull the animals. Reports by Leong Weng Kam, Ahmad Osman, Geraldine Yeo, and Joanne Lee

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