SINGAPORE ZOO LOOKS SET TO EXPAND ITS FAMILY OF RARE GIANT RIVER TERRAPINS

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Singapore, 28 December 2010 – Only a handful of these elusive and rare giant river terrapins are known to be left in their native homeland Cambodia – but the Singapore Zoo has successfully bred four of them, with more expected to join the family of eight in the months to come.

Both female terrapins at the zoo were recently found to be gravid with eggs, which are due to be laid anytime now. X-ray examinations on 13 December 2010 revealed that they were carrying over 40 eggs between them. The incubation period for these terrapins ranges from 68 to 112 days.

Giant river terrapins lay their eggs only once a year and the Singapore Zoo has successfully had four hatchlings to date in 2007 and 2009 – two of which are now on display at the Proboscis Monkey pool, while the others are behind the scenes in our turtle hatchery facility. The park is currently home to the two adult females, two adult males and the four hatchlings. Considered an extremely rare species, this breed, also known as Batagur affinis, is native to Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Sumatra.

“It is relatively easy to get the terrapins to mate but the challenge is getting them to nest on an artificial beach. In the past, the terrapins have laid their clutches of eggs in water and we were only able to rescue a few of the eggs. This is why we have had only a small number of hatchlings despite each clutch consisting over 20 eggs,” said Biswajit Guha, Director, Singapore Zoo. “Similarly in the wild, as they migrate to their nesting beach, they can be deterred from laying their eggs by disturbances on or around the beach.”

During the mating season, the males’ head, neck and legs turn black and their irises change, from yellow to pure white, with the colours reverting at the end of the mating season. Females swim far upstream from their usual estuarine habitats, as far as 80km, to nest communally on sand bars and river banks.

Due to their picky breeding requirements and obscure nature, conservationists have tried very hard to rebuild their dwindling populations. In fact, this species was thought to be extinct in Cambodia until some specimens were rediscovered in 2001. They play a key role in the overall ecosystem by aiding in seed dispersal and vegetation management, controlling insect and snail populations, and keeping freshwater systems clean by scavenging on dead animals.

The giant river terrapin is listed as critically endangered in the 2009 IUCN Red List and in CITES Appendix I. This species and other Asian turtles are in grave danger for a number of reasons including the thriving illegal wildlife trade, and their appeal as a delicacy in Asia.

Earlier this year, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which operates the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the upcoming River Safari, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to embark on joint studies in the region, including a project to conserve giant river terrapins in Asia. WRS also works closely with local authorities and conservation groups such as Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) to re- home confiscated wild turtles and tortoises or distribute them to partner zoos to be integrated into breeding programmes and educational animal exhibits.

A giant river terrapin nesting on an artificial beach at Singapore Zoo’s Bornean Marsh exhibit

An x-ray showing the terrapin’s eggs

LEMURS GET FESTIVE AT THE SINGAPORE ZOO

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Singapore, 23 December 2010 – Animals at the Fragile Forest at the Singapore Zoo enjoyed a touch of festivity during their environment enrichment session yesterday. Resident lemurs, the ring-tailed lemur and black and white ruffed lemur, which are native primates of Madagascar, had early Christmas treats as keepers distributed raisins, sunflower seeds and fruit in colourfully-wrapped presents, crackers and stockings.

Environmental enrichment provides animals with the required mental and physical stimulation, e.g. opportunities for problem solving through natural behaviour, to minimise stress associated with living in a captive environment. This reduces the occurrence of repetitive and destructive behaviour, and encourages an increased level of wellbeing.

Animals at the zoo receive a minimum three sessions of enrichment each week.

The popular Fragile Forest exhibit features a rainforest and mangrove environment, and is also home to animals such as mousedeer, two-toed sloths, fruit bats, butterflies and a variety of birds such as crowned pigeons, red lories, eclectus parrots and red-shouldered macaws.

All Cracker-ed up: Christmas arrives early for Boey, a black and white ruffed lemur from Singapore Zoo’s Fragile Forest, as it inspects a Christmas cracker filled with chopped bananas, grapes, watermelon and papaya during an animal enrichment session.

Pass the carrot (nose): A ring-tailed lemur residing in Singapore Zoo’s Fragile Forest inspects the edible nose of its new friend, a snowman. The snowman was constructed as part of an animal enrichment session conducted for the lemurs. (The lemur subsequently chomped on the carrot!) These sessions aim to simulate environments for wildlife living in zoos and wildlife parks to display their natural instinct and enhance their well-bring.

Leaf the present opening to me: Two young ring-tailed lemurs at Singapore Zoo’s Fragile Forest gleefully take apart a present filled with chopped fruit, raisins, sunflower seeds and leaves during an animal enrichment session. The Christmas package encourages the lemurs to use their natural instincts to obtain the treats inside, honing their motor and sensory skills.

MEET YOO HOO & FRIENDS – UNIQUE, CUDDLY, AND HIGHLY ENDANGERED!

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Singapore, 16 December 2010Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) is taking on a fun – and soft – approach in its latest effort to spread the message of wildlife conservation. The parent company of the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and Singapore Zoo, and the upcoming River Safari, has been appointed the exclusive distributor of YooHoo & Friends, a collection of soft plush toys that are cute, huggable and reflective of highly endangered animals in the wild.

Created by Aurora, one of the leading companies for high-end soft toy designs in the global gifts industry, these 8-inch plush creatures come in 33 different animal designs, which depict highly vulnerable species across the globe. These include the Iberian Lynx in Europe, Spectacled Bear in South America, Platypus in Oceania and Japanese Macaque in Asia. Currently, twelve designs have been put on sale at the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and Singapore Zoo. These include best-sellers like the Fennec Fox and Fairy Penguin. WRS plans to bring in the other 19 designs in the coming months. They are also retailing at major shopping centers, including Takashimaya, N’BC stationery, BHG, Isetan as well as the Singapore Science Centre and Mount Faber Cable Car Station.

These little wildlife ambassadors have been a big hit with both the young and old, since they were first introduced as plush toys four years ago. There is even a Korean animated series, YooHoo & Friends, which was created to teach children the importance of protecting and conserving the environment.

Said Ms Linda Tan, Assistant Director, Retail, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, “We hope to draw the consumers’ attention to these doe-eyed endangered species, to spark interest and eventually bring the message of conservation in a lovable and fun way to the masses. WRS will be partnering with local departmental stores, retailers and organizations to make these plush toys readily available to the public. We also have plans to go regional by approaching zoos and wildlife parks across Asia to develop new distribution channels and spread the message of wildlife conservation.”

“Children will be drawn to the cuddly features of the toys while teenagers will find the innocent expressions most endearing. Adults will find solace in these small critters as they make ideal stress relievers,” she added.

YooHoo & Friends will make ideal gifts this festive season, particularly for young children as they fulfill international safety standards and specifications, including those set out by the EU Directive for Toy Safety, i.e. Standard EN71, and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Toy Safety.

Consumers and collectors can even look forward to a special Valentine’s Day edition that includes a 28-inch tall Bush Baby plush that will make its debut in January/February 2011. There will also be a limited edition Halloween collection in Q3 of 2011.

NIGHT SAFARI WELCOMES FIRST BABY ELEPHANT IN NINE YEARS

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Singapore, 3 December 2010Night Safari, the world’s first wildlife park for nocturnal animals, was the birth place of a baby giant recently. The first elephant to be born in nine years, it arrived on 23 November 2010 at an auspicious time of 8.08am.

Considered large for a newborn at 1.5 times the average size, the 151-kg calf arrived after 3 hours of labour, making it the fifth elephant to be born at the Night Safari. His mother, Nandong, is 25 years old and is also the mother of the previous two elephant babies – Sang Raja which is currently in Cologne Zoo and nine-year-old Sang Wira which still resides at the Night Safari. The baby elephant is sired by Chawang, the only bull elephant in Night Safari and Singapore Zoo’s collection of Asian elephants. The birth brings the total number of Asian elephants at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), parent company of Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, Singapore Zoo and the upcoming River Safari, to 11.

The active calf, which has yet to be named, is already developing a character of its own. While most baby elephants stick close to their mothers in the early stages, zookeepers have noticed that this brave little one likes to wander from his mother to explore his surroundings.

“These elephants have such unique personalities. They are highly intelligent and self- aware,” said Mr Kumar Pillai, Director, Zoology, Night Safari. “We have been fortunate enough to witness 5 elephant births at our parks, as there can be a 4-5 year interval before a female will breed again. Her pregnancy lasts about 22 months, and she will not mate until the first calf is weaned, and this takes up to 2-3 years.”

Asian elephants are endangered – even more so than their better recognised counterpart, the African elephant – with an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 left in the wild. They are found in the forests of India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Many of them are widely domesticated and are used for forestry, harvesting, or ceremonial purposes.

Habitat loss poses the most serious threat to the future of these magnificent creatures, as a large part of their native homes are being logged and cleared for urban and agricultural development.

WRS has a very successful captive breeding programme and has bred other endangered animals such as the pangolin, Malayan sun bear, the orang utans and many others.

For a video on the birth of the elephant, please click here. The video shows the mother giving birth to the baby and the natural process of the adult elephants removing the amniotic bladder from the newborn.

The young 151-kg calf is the fifth elephant to be born in the Night Safari.

Nandong, the 25-year-old mother, watches closely as the team of zookeepers and vets from Wildlife Reserves Singapore weighs the calf.

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