SINGAPORE - Culling of animals will only be done as a last resort, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon following a public outcry over the culling of 24 free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming last month.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20), Dr Koh said the population of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming had doubled to 50, and that studies have shown chickens are more susceptible to the bird flu virus, compared to other birds like pigeons.
Citing a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Koh added that there is scientific evidence that chickens can in turn transmit the disease to humans.
That is why the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) felt it had to take action to manage the chicken population there, he said, noting that complaints about noise was not the only reason behind the culling.
Also the chickens, though free-roaming, are not wild birds, he said in response to to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who asked about the episode.
That is why they could not be relocated, as doing so adversely affect the genetic stock of the native red jungle fowl - the endangered ascendant of the domestic chicken.
"The chickens in Sin Ming, and in most of our urban settings, are highly unlikely to be of native stock and are therefore different from our indigenous breed of red junglefowl, which is an endangered species known to occur only in Pulau Ubin and the Western Catchment area. They were brought in by humans at some point, perhaps to be raised as pets," Dr Koh said.
"So releasing the free-ranging chickens into the wild can adversely affect the genetic stock of the native species if there is inter-breeding," he added.
Dr Koh told Parliament that AVA is conducting scientific studies to enhance its animal management strategies.
He also urged people not to feed wildlife, as such a practice disturbs the balance in the ecosystem and will invariably increase human-wildlife contact, and lead to conflict.
On the Sin Ming birds, Dr Koh said AVA had initiated a study with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in January 2016 to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species in Singapore, one of which is free-ranging chickens.
"Through these research studies and public engagement efforts, AVA aims to strengthen its capabilities and develop more effective science-based methods to manage the animal population in our midst," said Dr Koh.
"AVA will also involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions. Culling will only be done as a last resort. Ultimately, we want to thrive as a City in a Garden, living in harmony with nature, and enjoying the flora and fauna around us."
The debate over the issue lasted nearly 30 minutes, as MPs sought more clarity on the issue and AVA's approach to culling.
Mr Louis Ng asked if some of the culled birds at Sin Ming could be the endangered red jungle fowl, saying that he has seen photographs that suggest this.
The National Parks Board (NParks) had earlier said that the purebred red jungle fowl have grey legs, whereas chickens mostly have yellow legs. While chickens sport red combs, female jungle fowl do not. Red jungle fowl, unlike chickens, can fly and are also quieter. Their calls are high-pitched and truncated, whereas roosters - male chickens - have a recognisable call that is louder and longer.
Said Mr Ng: "I have seen the photos of the chickens or some of them at Sin Ming, they are indeed the red jungle fowl. There are two birds there, the domestic chickens and the red jungle fowl.
"Just to clarify because AVA had mentioned earlier that the free ranging chickens seen on mainland Singapore are not the red jungle fowl. That statement is inaccurate."
In response, Dr Koh said: "As to whether the birds that were running around are the red jungle fowl or just the foreign species, I think AVA will have to conduct genetic studies to determine or maybe get the experts to ascertain. So I think this is the point that is difficult for us to ascertain the truth just by speaking like this in this House."