During the first few days of the Rooster Lunar New Year, “chickens” which had been roaming freely around Thomson View and Blocks 452 to 454 Sin Ming Avenue, were put down by Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).
It was first reported by local Chinese media and according to TODAY’s report on 1 Feb, AVA said that it had received 20 complaints from residents about the free-ranging chickens last year, most of them related to noise.
AVA was further quoted by TODAY to have said, “The chickens are humanely euthanised, as relocation options are not available in land-scarce Singapore,”
The spokesperson also was noted to have said that the authority “conducts surveillance and control operations to safeguard public health and mitigate nuisance issues”.
Following the news of the culling, public outrage ensued. Residents sharing their personal experience with the chickens at their estate, called AVA’s actions a travesty as it culled chickens that are deemed to be the endangered Red Junglefowl, a protected species in Singapore and it got rid of the “kampung spirit” that everyone yearns for in this urbanised city-state.
AVA comes out to “clarify”
Just yesterday, a letter from Dr Yap Him Hoo, director-general of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) was published on TODAY’s Voices to “clarify” the AVA’s actions on the culled chickens, by stating that it is AVA’s responsibility to keep Singapore free from associated animal plant diseases that pose a threat to public health.
Dr Yap who has been with AVA since August 2016, stated that AVA’s action was due to concerns about public health and safety and not noise, although various media reports may have given the impression that it is taking action solely because of complaints about noise.
He wrote, “The risk of free-roaming chickens in Singapore being exposed to bird flu is real and significant, as we are a stopover node for migratory wild birds,”, citing clear scientific evidence that chickens are very susceptible to the bird flu virus and can then transmit the disease to humans. Noting that this was what happened when bird flu struck the region in 2004.
The former Director of Ministry of National Development (Infrastructure), went on to state that the chickens in Singapore can catch the disease through direct contact with wild birds or even through their droppings and noted the risk of free-roaming chickens in Singapore being exposed to bird flu is real and significant, as Singapore is a stopover node for migratory wild birds.
Using a recent example in Denmark to back his point, Dr Yap noted that investigations found that it started because of contact between wild birds and free-roaming chickens.
He pointed out that there have also been cases of outbreaks around the world where the primary risk factor for human infection was linked to direct or indirect exposure to infected poultry.
“For example, in recent months, there had been reports of human infections in China and Vietnam owing to close proximity to infected chickens, such as in live poultry markets or during preparation of meals using free-roaming chickens.” wrote Dr Yap.
Noise complaints or Bird-flu?
In the second report by TODAY on the matter, AVA was quoted to have said, “Free-ranging chickens can pose a potential threat to public health, especially if their population is left unchecked. There is a likelihood of an incursion of bird flu into Singapore, as bird flu is endemic in the region,”, this is in line with Dr Yap’s clarification letter.
But in another report by Straits Times, Ms Jessica Kwok, AVA group director of the animal management group, was quoted to say that the authority has received requests to manage the free- ranging chicken population due to noise pollution.
In the ST report published on 2 Feb,
“To address these, AVA works with NParks to conduct surveillance and control operations to safeguard public health and mitigate nuisance issues,” she said.
Last year, AVA received reports from residents of the Pasir Ris and Thomson areas complaining about the noise from free-ranging chickens.
Due to a lack of relocation options in land-scarce Singapore, the chickens will be humanely euthanised, Ms Kwok said.
This is similar to the earlier quote by TODAY that noted the complaints from residents and also AVA’s point that they can not relocate the chickens because of the lack of space in Singapore.
AVA most likely acted on complaints about noise
It is far more likely that AVA acted upon the matter due to complaints from residents as compared to public health concerns because of the following reasons:
1. While it noted in TODAY’s quote, that AVA safeguards public health, it did not explicitly refer to concerns over possible bird flu for the cull.
2. ST’s quote on 2 Feb, supports the idea that AVA has been receiving complaints from residents about the noise from the chickens and had to do something about it.
3. The chickens have been there for quite some time, residents have at least spotted them in the vicinity since 2011. So why the long wait to move in for the kill? Is AVA saying that it is inept for what it is meant to do or it did not find it a concern to be addressed in the first place?
Because if AVA, indeed, culled the chickens due to public health concerns, why did it find a need to explain that it could not relocate the chickens? Given that Dr Yap has already stated that the “risk of free-roaming chickens in Singapore being exposed to bird flu is real and significant”, why couldn’t AVA highlight this at the very beginning?
In a 2005 report on TODAY, AVA stated that the bird-flu virus is linked to waterfowl which do not migrate through Singapore, and tests migrating birds twice a month instead of once during the migratory season of September to March.
AVA was further quoted to have said that if flu virus is to be detected in these birds, the concerned park or nature reserve may be closed and quarantined. It will also increase biosecurity in all local poultry farms, slaughterhouses and bird farms.
It would appear that AVA’s official stance is to take action after strands of the bird-flu virus are detected in birds. Given that despite pigeons, crows and mynahs are more abundant than free-ranging chickens, there is no action to cull their population due to the fear of bird-flu. The last culling exercise for prevention of bird flu is said to be in 2004, for practice sake.
So was there any bird-flu virus found with the chickens?
Were the culled chickens, endangered species?
Apart from the senseless cull by AVA, many found issues with the view that the culled chickens were of the endangered species, Red Junglefowl.
AVA had earlier stated in its response that the free-ranging chickens that are sometimes seen on mainland Singapore are not red junglefowl though some may resemble them.
National Parks was also quoted to have said that the chickens may look similar but the red junglefowl has a number of distinct traits that set it apart from domesticated chickens. It noted that the purebred red junglefowl have grey legs, whereas chickens mostly have yellow legs. While chickens sport red combs, female junglefowl do not.
However, residents and animal lovers have pointed out that the chickens are indeed the endangered species.
In “Wild City”, a TV documentary series produced by MediaCorp’s Channel News Asia and narrated by natural history legend Sir David Attenborough, it states that these chickens found at Sin Ming Avenue as the species of Red Junglefowl, the ancestors to the domesticated chickens. It also showed footage that the chickens had grey legs and that they can fly,
Photos and videos of the chickens also showed that the chickens at Sin Ming Avenue are not the domesticated chickens AVA alluded to be.
The Online Citizen (TOC) wrote to AVA asking if it had conducted DNA testing on the culled chickens to ascertain whether or not they were pure breed Red Junglefowl. But there had been no reply since.
By keeping silent on the matter, it would appear, rightfully, that the culled chickens were indeed the endangered species.
TOC understands that there had been a lot of people writing to AVA to express their anger at their actions and posting comments on AVA’s facebook page (which it has also been busy removing them). Given the amount of public outrage over the matter, AVA should heed the wisdom of PAP Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
“When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so, but don’t cover up”
TOC has written to AVA for their input on this matter and will include their response when they reply.