PROJECT AGREEMENT SIGNED ON GROUNDBREAKING PROJECT TO HELP BETTER UNDERSTAND MYSTERIOUS MEGAFISH

Singapore, 11 January 2012Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and Chulalongkorn University, Thailand are working together on a pioneering project to tag and track giant freshwater stingrays in the wild. The two organisations sealed the partnership with a Programme Agreement signing ceremony at Singapore Zoo this afternoon.

This project, the first of its kind in the world, will involve tagging six wild specimens from the Mae Klong River in Amphawa, Thailand using “Pop-up Archival Transmitting Tags”*.

Chulalongkorn University will provide the expertise for the field research, while WRS will handle all financial aspects, including purchasing the tagging devices.

Giant freshwater stingrays have attracted global interest due to their enormous size. However, little is known of their physiology, behaviour and migration processes. This species has not been bred in captivity and is threatened by fisheries and habitat loss.

The results from this monitoring programme will provide valuable data of field survey and tracking in a natural environment. These data could be used to recreate an environment conducive for breeding the animals, reducing the need for wild-caught specimens. Additionally, this study may shed light on how they affect the riverine ecosystems and more importantly, if their decline is an indication of the deteriorating health of the whole ecosystem.

Both organisations will also use the opportunity to raise conservation awareness for this species through educational outreach programmes among the local population in Amphawa district, Thailand, where the study will be conducted and through WRS parks’ educational programmes. This will be the first official learning and cooperation platform between Thailand and Singapore.

Ms Isabella Loh, WRS Group CEO said, “This is a significant partnership with Chulalongkorn University to help conserve the giant freshwater stingrays of Southeast Asia, and the aquatic ecosystem they thrive in. Little is known of these enormous creatures and the vital role they play in the riverine ecosystem. This is one of the major interests in our conservation education drive for the upcoming River Safari.”

Dr Sonja Luz, Deputy Director, Conservation and Research and Learning Centre, continued, “Giant freshwater stingrays are still being harvested for food by some local fishermen but we do not know their growth rates, how often they reproduce, their impact on the aquatic ecosystem and if the fishermen’s practice is sustainable. This project will elucidate the need for further scientific studies and species census; helping us to understand and manage them better. This study may also shed light on the possibility of a viable managed breeding programme for this species at our aquatic facility in River Safari.”

Prof Dr Mongkol Techakumphu, Dean of faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University added, “This is an excellent opportunity for us to be a part of a momentous study. We hope that the data acquired may even form the backbone for provincial and governmental regulatory controls, encouraging the conservation of the giant freshwater stingray.”

Visitors to River Safari, WRS’ freshwater-themed attraction, will be able to discover these mystifying creatures for themselves when the park opens later this year.

* NOTE: Pop-up Archival Transmitting Tag is a combination of archival and satellite technology designed to track the large-scale movements and behaviour of fish and other animals which do not spend enough time at the surface to allow the use of real-time satellite tags.

Each giant freshwater stingray caught is also carefully measured from tip to tip. This species can reach an impressive 3m in disc diameter and over 6m in total length, and weigh up to 600kg.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore has three of these specimens in its collection. They will be displayed in River Safari, the upcoming freshwater-themed attraction, later this year.

Dr Nantarika Chansue of the Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animal Research Centre of Chulalongkorn University draws blood from the tail of a wild giant freshwater stingray in the Mae Klong River, Thailand.