When it comes to managing Singapore’s animal population, culling will be done only as “a last resort”, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).He was responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh in relation to the culling of 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area, which had sparked a public outcry recently.
Dr Koh pointed out that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) had found that the free-roaming chicken population in the Sin Ming area had “more than doubled” in the past two years, from about 20 in 2014 to 50 last year.
Given that chickens are more susceptible to bird flu, compared to other birds such as pigeons, and can transmit the virus to humans, Dr Koh said the AVA decided to remove some of the chickens, and to keep their population close to the “baseline level”.
When asked by Mr Ng for the number of people who complained, rather than the number of complaints relating to the chickens in Sin Ming, Dr Koh disclosed there were three people who complained in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 people last year.
Countering suggestions that the chickens could have been easily relocated to the wild, such as in Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said this could create a situation of inter-breeding, thus adversely affecting the genetic stock of the endangered species of red junglefowl, which are found in Ubin and the Western Catchment area.
And while rehoming of chickens is a possible solution, it cannot be done in the same way it is done for cats and dogs, since the fowl cannot be housed in Housing and Development Board flats and they also carry the risk of transmitting avian influenza.
However, Dr Koh said that the AVA acknowledged that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on the Sin Ming chickens issue “ought to have been better managed”.
Adding that there is no “magic number” on what the threshold figure should be before the authorities decide to cull, and citing a lack of specific recommendations on when to cull free-roaming chickens when there is no bird flu infection, Dr Koh reiterated that the AVA takes a “calibrated and measured approach” to reduce the risks posed to public health.
To find the best way to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, the AVA is currently undertaking research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies, he added.
For instance, in January last year, the authority initiated a study with the National University of Singapore to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species, such as free-range chickens, in Singapore.
Separately, in response to another parliamentary question filed by Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Dr Koh said the AVA received about 21,000 cases of bird-related complaints in the last three years, mostly related to the feeding of pigeons by the public, and pigeon nuisance.
Beyond reducing cases of birds feeding on leftover food in hawker centres, Dr Koh cited other solutions to the problem, such as bird deterrent gels, oral contraceptives for pigeons, and fogging trees to deter mynahs.
However, in situations where the authorities perceive the risk is high or there is a higher incidence of bird flu around the region, for instance, they might have to step up measures “more aggressively”, such as culling these birds to reduce the risk.
“Clearly, there is no perfect answer. If you want a perfectly safe environment, then yes, we should go all out, guns blazing, to remove every single bird from the sky of Singapore.
“But that’s not a practical approach ... You can cull a thousand birds today and tomorrow, another thousand will fly in from somewhere else ... So, it’s something we have to take a practical view and escalate when necessary,” Dr Koh said.