Movies Galore!

Who doesn’t like to watch films? Films are not only entertaining; they can also be meaningful and mirror what is happening in reality. There is a long list of eye-opening and impactful documentary films about conservation. But did you know that there are many popular entertainment movies which have a (hidden) conservation or environmental-related message that you might have missed? Get some popcorn ready, because we are going to recommend some great movies to watch in a different light!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Source: https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2016/11/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-earns-the-lowest-box-office-opening-of-any-harry-potter-movie/)

This spin-off of the phenomenal Harry Potter franchise introduces us to the troubling wizarding world in the 1920s through the adventures of Newt Scamander, a magizoologist, in New York City. A large part of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them explores the conflict between the magical and non-magical world as well as the threats from the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. However, there is also a charming message about conservation behind the film. Magical creatures face various threats from humans, and many are perceived wrongly and negatively by humans. As a zoologist, Newt argues for the preservation and respect of the magical animals. Having travelled to different continents to document magical creatures and their natural habitats, Newt hopes to provide the world with a better understanding of the nature of various creatures and their conservation. The stories of the magical creatures and Newt’s adventures in the film reflect many threats faced by wildlife in the real world and challenges in the field of biodiversity conservation.

The Lorax (2012)

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The Lorax (Source: https://abstar921.com/2015/11/11/seuss-on-screen-part-4-the-lorax/)

In Dr Seuss’s The Lorax, Ted lives in a walled society where trees are artificial and air is a commodity. In a bid to win the affection of a girl named Audrey, Ted embarks on a quest to fulfil her wish of seeing a real tree. The story follows his adventures as he discovers the reason for his society’s poor predicament: environmental collapse attributed to a ruined businessman, the Once-ler. Driven by money, the Once-ler ignored warnings from the Lorax, guardian of the forest, and wiped out all the Truffula trees for his own Thneed business. Dr Seuss’ story portrays and warns of the dangers that corporate greed can bring to both humans and the environment. Not only that, the story also shows how the customers’ demand for Thneed contributed to the destructive actions by the Once-ler, highlighting that rampant, unsustainable consumerism is responsible for the state of our environment.

Rio (2011)

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Rio (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwv7wBBkOkA)

There is more to this movie than the love story unfolding between two Spix’s macaws, Blu and Jewel, in Rio, Brazil. Their dangerous adventures take place against a backdrop of illegal wildlife trade of endangered birds. In the movie, Blu and Jewel were captured by a young boy and sold off to group of smugglers in Brazil’s slums. This hints at the realities of illegal wildlife trade of endangered animals, which is often lucrative and appeals greatly to those with poor financial circumstances. The harsh conditions that smuggled animals often experience were also portrayed in various dialogues and scenes in the movie. In addition, the movie touches on the cross-border nature of illegal wildlife trade as it follows Blu and Jewel’s efforts to escape from being smuggled overseas.

Avatar (2009)

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Avatar (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film))

This science fiction is set on a moon of a planet far away from Earth called Pandora. It tells of the clash between humans and the Na’vi (local people). This was a result of the humans seeking a largest deposit of unobtanium mineral under the Hometree of the Na’vi people. Taking a deeper look at the story, it reflects how mankind treats nature and others. We are using up the Earth’s natural resources unsustainably. Often, indigenous communities are displaced and marginalised in the quest to access new resources. Avatar urges us to stop our damaging ways towards the environment, and live sustainably, or we risk driving ourselves towards a bleak future. 

WALL-E (2008)

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WALL-E (Source:http://www.rotoscopers.com/2015/06/13/pixar-rewind-wall-e/)

In a distant future, Earth has been abandoned by humans. All that remains of the planet is unlimited mounds of garbage and the unlucky robot responsible for cleaning this impossible mess. WALL-E is an adorable story about saving the Earth and robots falling in love. WALL-E is our #1 choice — amazing, visionary, hilarious and sad — Walt Disney managed to paint a picture of an apocalyptic future dominated by endless landscapes of garbage and completely devoid of life (save a lovable cockroach) and make it entertaining. Despite the fact the Pixar downplayed the environmental message in the media (lest they turn off GOP-voting parents) it is clear that the last robot on earth, though mute, does indeed have a message.

You might just sit on the couch and escape into a disaster flick or two in the coming weeks, but hopefully these movies will also inspire you to take action in some way and keep Mother Earth at the forefront of your mind. Think we missed any? Let us know of any movies which you find interesting with an environmental message!

Words by: Nur Sabrina Binte Roslan and Ho Lijean

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Hello from the otterside!

We’ve reached the end of May, and what better way to say goodbye to this month than to celebrate World Otter Day? This year, World Otter Day falls on the 31st of May, and we hope that you’ll be motivated to learn more about these otterly adorable creatures after reading this post. World Otter Day was created with the intention of raising global awareness on these river-loving animals. This is due to the myriad of threats that otters increasingly face such as habitat destruction, hunting and road deaths. Before we talk more about otters, let’s start off with a joke:

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I hope you didn’t cringe too much (I tried my best). (Source: Tumblr)

Otters are carnivorous mammals that belong to the weasel family, which includes animals like the badger and wolverine, and there are 13 otter species which can be found all over the world. In North America, you can find the charismatic sea otters, who are often seen relaxing while floating on water. They even hold hands with one another while they’re sleeping to prevent themselves from floating away! In South and Southeast Asia, you can find the Oriental Small-Clawed otter, which is the smallest but one of the more social species among all the otter species.

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Hold on tight! (Source: Tumblr)

In our own island home, we’ve become enamoured with the otter families that elicit squeals of excitement whenever they are spotted. These families comprise of smooth-coated otters, which as the name suggests, have smoother and shorter fur as compared to other otter species. These adventurous otters have been seen exploring places such as St Andrew’s Junior College and the i Light festival at Marina Bay, proving themselves to be highly adept in navigating our urban landscape.

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Having some fun in the sun (Source: ART-ZOO Facebook)

Other than providing us with an overwhelming amount of cuteness, otters also play significant roles in their ecosystems as well. In the case of sea otters, they significantly influence sea urchin and kelp populations. Sea otters munch on sea urchins which consume kelp. By eating the sea urchins, sea otters keep the populations in check, which prevents kelp forests from being overgrazed on by sea urchins. It’s important to maintain healthy kelp forests as they are rich sources of nutrients to fish and other marine organisms.

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Without sea otters, kelp forests would be devastated 😦 (Source: Seaotters.com)

Sadly, most otter species are facing falling population numbers and this can be attributed to a few reasons. One major reason would be pollution which contaminates water bodies where otters are mostly found. Harmful chemicals from the run-offs can accumulate in the otters and their prey are affected by the pollution as well, jeopardising the food sources of the otters.

You may be wondering, how can I contribute to World Otter Day? Well, even a small action is pretty significant! You could aim to spread the message about otters to people around you and raise awareness on their situation. Another simple way of contributing would be being considerate towards our local otters (and all other wildlife in fact!). Some tips include giving the otters adequate space upon encountering them and keeping our waterways clean to give them optimal habitats to thrive in. With that, happy World Otter Day and enjoy the rest of this week 🙂

References:

Asian small-clawed otter | Animal Fact Sheet – Woodland Park Zoo Seattle WA. (2017). Zoo.org. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from https://www.zoo.org/page.aspx?pid=2549#.WSGHxGh942w

Sea Otter | National Geographic. (2010). Nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/s/sea-otter/

SEAOTTERS.COM – POWERED BY CUTENESS™. (2017). SEAOTTERS.COM – POWERED BY CUTENESS™. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from http://seaotters.com/2013/05/why-are-sea-otters-important-no-sea-otters-no-kelp-forests/

Threats to Sea Otters. (2012). Defenders of Wildlife. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from http://www.defenders.org/sea-otter/threats

Words by: Tan Hui Xin

Mercy Release…or not?

It’s mid-week already, but this time it’s not just any typical Wednesday, but Vesak day! So, you may ask, what exactly is Vesak Day about? And why are we even writing about a religious festival on a website dedicated to Singapore’s biodiversity? Well, Vesak Day is observed by Buddhists to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhists would refrain from killing and many times carry out ‘Mercy Release’.

Firstly, what is mercy release? Basically, mercy release involves the release of animals kept in captivity such as the pets sold in pet stores and live fishes kept in restaurants. While at first glance, such acts may truly be benevolent and liberating, a deeper analysis proves otherwise. In fact, statistics released by NParks show that about 80-90% of the animals freed into the wild perish within a day (Heng, 2016). Doesn’t sound very liberating, unless death is your idea of liberation (instead of the conventional concept where animals are returned to their proper home – the great wilderness).

In fact, this tradition of mercy release has spurned off a darker side taking advantage of an activity borne out kindness for animals. In some places where the animals are bought from vendors specialising in this ‘trade’, the animals are recaptured after being released, thereby continuing a vicious cycle of catch and release. That’s not all. The animals that do survive being suddenly freed into the wild compete with native species for resources, upsetting the already delicate balance of Singapore’s wildlife. Common examples of non-native species include the Red-eared Slider and the American Bullfrog.

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The non-native Red-eared Slider in MacRitchie Reservoir (Photo by: BES Drongos)

However, you can help put an end to this! For one, you could start by telling your friends and family about the consequences of mercy release. If people are not deterred by the ecological harm brought about by this activity, one should also note that animal abandonment is a crime under the Singaporean Law. Under the Parks and Trees Act, one could be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to half a year or even both if caught releasing animals for the first time (National Parks, 2015). Also, if you wish to know more, NParks is currently holding Operation No Release this weekend in the various parks and nature reserves where they reach out to the public on this issue. Alternatively, after being armed with the knowledge listed above, you could sign up to volunteer with NParks to engage the public about mercy release and animal abandonment! 🙂

In conclusion, we need to realise that not all actions borne out of virtuous intentions have good results. In the case of mercy release, such acts may in fact do more harm than good. However, we can still do our part to help animals on this Vesak day through actions such as being vegetarian or donating to animal groups that fight illegal wildlife trade (Actman, 2017).

References:

A Buddhist Tradition to Save Animals Has Taken an Ugly Turn. (2017, Jan 23). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/wildlife-watch-mercy-release-buddhist-china-illegal-trade/

Do not release animals into the wild. (2015, May 13). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from https://www.nparks.gov.sg/news/2015/5/do-not-release-animals-into-the-wild

Heng, L. (2016, May 22). 80-90% of animals ‘released’ on Vesak Day die within a day. Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/80-90-animals-released-vesak-day-die-within-day

Vesak Day: 5 things you should know about this Buddhist celebration. (2015, May 25). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/vesak-day-5-things-you-should-know-about-this-buddhist-celebration

Words by: Choo Min

 

Petai Trail with the BES Drongos (6 May 2017)

The wind grew stronger as the dark clouds loomed. The meeting point was crowded with people from the approaching rain. Even the resident long-tailed macaques were indoors to seek shelter. It was a quarter to nine when our guides started to worry. Will the trail carry on or will it be cancelled? Just as the clock struck nine, the clouds started to part and the sun shone brightly on MacRitchie Reservoir Park. It was time to commence the trail!

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The trail begins! We take a short journey back in time to talk about MacRitchie’s history (Photo by Nicholas Lim)

Our five nature guides and six participants made their way to the start of Petai Trail for the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) Drongos guided walk. As they began, the team spotted the native red jungle fowl from its distinctive call. Who would have known that such a brightly-coloured and loud animal could be found in our forests?

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Red Junglefowl (Photo by Pang Hui En)

As our guides shared about the history of Macritchie Reservoir Park as a plantation and a kampong¸ they pointed out distinctive plants that have remained through the ages. They included the tall and majestic chewing gum tree (also known as the Jelutong), and the twirling rattan tree.

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Participants and guides under the majestic Jelutong tree! (Photo by Nicholas Lim)

The trail was filled with the sights and sounds of many of Singapore’s native wildlife. Thanks to our nature guides, our team was able to spot and identify a wide diversity of animals such as the pin striped-tit babbler, long-tailed macaques and common sun skink.

As the trail came to an end, the group was greeted by a cool breeze along the reservoir. It had been an exciting and informative trail, with both the participants and nature guides learning more about Macritchie Reservoir Park from each other.

If you are interested to learn more about the wildlife in Macritchie, then join us for a free guided walk at Petai Trail by signing up here. Our friendly nature guides would love to take you on a trail you will not forget!

Words by: Joeline Lim

Nature’s Workers

Stand up for workers all over the world because it’s International Workers’ Day (a.k.a. Labour Day)! It’s a day to pay tribute to everyone who has worked hard in their fields for the success and well-being of our nation: architects, designers, engineers, cleaners and many, many more. In the natural world, working is also part and parcel of animals’ lives for their families and their survival. Ants and bees are perhaps the most widely known hardworking animals. But, do you know of other animals that perform similar jobs as people do? As we celebrate this holiday with our family and friends, let’s take a moment to appreciate and applaud some of the most industrious animals in the natural world!

Beavers

One of nature’s greatest engineers, the beaver is the only animal capable of changing their environment after man! These large rodents work diligently to construct dams in rivers or streams to transform fields and forests into large, nice and cosy ponds as their homes for winter. Preparation for this massive construction project starts all the way from late summer to fall. With the help of their strong teeth and powerful jaws, the beavers are able to chip away at tree trunks to acquire logs and branches for construction. After being broken down into smaller pieces, the beavers would carry the materials to the construction site and start building the dam by laying sticks and stacking branches in the mud.

Satin Bowerbirds

The male Satin Bowerbird is perhaps the most accomplished interior designer in the animal kingdom. The males spend lots of hard work and time to build and decorate nests to attract females’ attentions. Pebbles, shells and flowers are among some of the artistic objects the males use in their creative nest design.

Cleaner Wrasse

Just like how we pay great attention on public health and hygiene, cleanliness is also an important concern in the marine world. And this heavy responsibility lies on the Cleaner Wrasse. These tiny fishes work 24/7 scrubbing off unwanted parasites and dead scales on the fins, tails and even mouths of other reef fishes. The reward of their hard work is the feast of parasites! The Cleaner Wrasse has a long list of clients, including larger fishes which might be potential predators!

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The Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse (Source: http://www.marinelifephotography.com/fishes/wrasses/labroides-phthirophagus.htm)

Aren’t all these creatures amazing?! Not only do animals work long days and nights to survive, they also work hard in maintaining our ecosystem with their irreplaceable skill sets, such as acting as pollinators and decomposers. On this Labour Day, let’s also celebrate the contributions animals have made!

Happy Labour Day!

References:

National Geographic. (n.d.). Beaver. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/b/beaver/

Animal Planet. (n.d.) The Beauticians. Retrieved from: http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/5-the-beauticians/

Animal Planet. (n.d.) The Builders. Retrieved from: http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/9-the-builders/

Animal Planet. (n.d.) Interior Decorators. Retrieved from: http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/6-interior-decorators/

Words by: Ho Lijean

Tricksters of the Animal World

Hello friends, it’s April Fools’ Day! You know what that means: tricks and jokes galore! But if you are here on this blog, reading this post, then you may have been on the internet researching about cool pranks to pull on your friends (of course). Since you’re already here, how about a quick post to brighten your day? On this day of fun and games, let’s take a look at the amazing tricksters of the animal world, who may trick their way around to stay alive, or just to have a good time.

First in line is a relative of our namesake, the drongo. Specifically the Fork-tailed Drongo, hailed as the Kalahari desert’s greatest trickster. Almost 23 percent of their daily intake is stolen food, but for the animals that they steal from, the drongo is essentially a friendly watchbird, until he pulls a quick prank on them.

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Fork-tailed Drongo (Source: https://africageographic.com/blog/feisty-fearless-clever-fork-tailed-drongo/)

When a predator is near, the drongo calls out in alarm to warn its friends, such as the meerkats, sending them scurrying away for cover. That’s pretty helpful, except the drongo swoops down and steals the food the meerkats left in their quest for a hiding spot.

The drongo tries this a few times, although the meerkats learn and eventually the gig is up. But here’s something cool: as a final trick, the drongo mimics the meerkat’s own alarm call, and this time, the meerkats fall for it, scattering away as the drongo cackles internally and steals their food once again.

But what are words when there are videos? There’s a cool clip that you may enjoy, complete with dramatic music and professional videography.

Next, we have the Leaf Fish. Granted, it’s not as cute as the Fork-tailed Drongo, but there’s a reason. This freshwater fish looks and acts like a dead leaf, held up in a ‘floating’ position by its small, transparent fins. They’ll casually float close enough to their prey, and everyone’s having a good time until it strikes at the last moment, consuming smaller fishes with its projectile mouth.

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Leaf Fish (Source: https://philliplynda.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/another-first-spiny-leaf-fish-at-cook-island-marine-reserve/)

The attack lasts a quarter of a second, so blink and you’ll miss it.

Then we have the Virginia opossum. The term ‘playing possum’ originates from this little guy, as when its frightened, the animal involuntarily drops ‘dead’, during which it stiffens with its mouth open and drooling and releases a stench of decay. The opossum’s drool also causes predators to steer clear of them, as drooling usually indicates sickness.

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Virginia Opossum (Source: Cody Pope – Wikipedia:User:Cody.pope, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1705724)

It’s not a very graceful defence, although playing dead never is. What’s that? You want a video? Sure, now’s as good a time as any to watch a live opossum being dead for three minutes.

Next, we have the Spider-tailed Horned Viper, a species belonging to a genus of venomous vipers, who are so tricky it’s evil. As you can tell from its name, the end of its tail resembles a spider, which it uses as a lure for insectivorous birds. The resemblance is so similar that the bird may perch on the snake itself, landing it well within the snake’s striking range.

Spider-tailed Horned Viper (Source: Omid Mozaffari – http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?enlarge=0000+0000+0811+3699, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25942622)

This is an incredible evolutionary adaptation that’s honed a remarkable hunting technique. Here’s the first ever video taken of the viper in action. Watch it with caution, as the narrator’s voice may scare you a little more than the viper itself.

Last but not least, we definitely can’t leave out one of the most intelligent tricksters in the animal kingdom, the Mimic Octopus. This sea creature can easily mimic up to 15 different species (and counting), although only it’s mimicry of the lion fish, banded sole and sea snake are caught on video. It has been reported that it can also copy the stingray, jellyfish and starfish.

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Mimic Octopus (Source: http://thehigherlearning.com/2014/06/19/the-indonesian-mimic-octopus-is-the-animal-kingdoms-master-of-disguise-video/)

Pretty cool stuff.

We’ve reached the end of this post, but before I finish up, I’d like to encourage fellow readers to go ahead and learn about the other tricky animals that deserve equal attention. It’s all very entertaining content, I promise you.

Have a happy April Fools’!

References:

Basham, Jessica. “Scared To Death: Opossums Play Possum”. Welcome to Walton Outdoors. N.p., 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

Morell, Virginia. “African Bird Shouts False Alarms To Deceive And Steal, Study Shows”. News.nationalgeographic.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

Words by: Gwyneth Cheng

Giants in our waters

Biodiversity is found everywhere,

and good places must be shared,

Sharing our knowledge is caring with courage,

so go and be brave, explore there!

While the BES Drongos guide at Macritchie’s Petai Trail, our guides are equally passionate about helping others learn more about biodiversity in other parts of Singapore as well!

Last month, 2 BES Drongos guides joined participants from NUS’s University Scholars Programme on a trip to St John’s Island, located a short 25 minute ferry away from Marina South Pier. St John’s Island forms part of Singapore’s Southern Islands, a planning area comprising of other islands like Kusu Island and the Sisters’ Islands. Geographically, all of them are found just south of Sentosa (see map below).

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Singapore’s outlying islands. The Southern Islands are demarcated by the red border (Image source: https://cdn-az.allevents.in/banners/fa153bd9789f5ec5cdo21d3f528d9c42)

There, students visited St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, which houses the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre, and listened to both Dr Serena Teo and Dr Neo Mei Lin who are key staff based at the facility. Students then got to tour the grounds, with the highlight being the Giant Clam Hatchery, which breeds 2 species of giant clams, the Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa) and the Boring Giant Clam (T. crocea).

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Dr Neo giving students a tour of the Giant Clam Hatchery (Photo by Angela Chan)

For those who don’t know, Dr Neo is one of the world’s leading scientists in researching giant clams, and was recently named a TED Fellow. Part of her research is to maintain the Giant Clam Hatchery, which grows giant clams until they are large enough to be re-introduced into Singapore waters. In a similar fashion to animal rehabilitation, a hatchery relies on the genetic material of giant clams in the wild to produce offspring, and protect these new clams from predators and other threats, allowing them to grow without interference until they are old enough to defend for themselves.

Why focus on giant clams then? Giant clams worldwide currently play an important role for the coral reef ecosystem, being sources of food with for other marine animals because of its large primary productivity, shelter for a mixture of coral reef fish and epibionts (creatures that live on the clam’s shell) as well as having reef scale contributions by contributing carbonate and regulating eutrophication (acting as a nutrient filter) (Neo et al., 2015). Furthermore, their long lifespans spanning around a hundred years mean they are bioindicators to help scientists understand the health of the coral reef they reside in (“Giant Clam”, n.d.).

However, giant clams are being threatened by multiple drivers, including coral reef degradation, harvesting and aquarium trade, such that might become locally extinct if marine biologists do not intervene (Neo & Todd, 2013). Thankfully with passionate individuals like Dr Neo, and the infrastructure of St John’s Marine Laboratory, giant clams here may just be spared a fate of doom, and we hope that giant clams can soon be found thriving once again!

All in all, I personally enjoyed myself at the facility. Seeing and learning about giant clams for the first time was a good reminder that biodiversity is diverse, beautiful and needs to be shown respect and care for by humans. The island itself also has a pleasant, tranquil feel to it, offering several recreational spaces, many furry felines, and even a beach (on adjacent Lazarus Island) should you want to get yourself ready for the June holidays! The Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre is open 7 days a week and St John’s Island is assessable by ferry 2 times a day on weekdays and up to 5 times a day on weekends.

That’s all for now, stay tuned to our blog for more updates as we talk about biodiversity in other parts of Singapore too!!!

Bibliography

Neo, M. L., Eckman, W., Vicentuan, K., Teo, S. L. M., & Todd, P. A. (2015). The ecological significance of giant clams in coral reef ecosystems. Biological Conservation181, 111-123.

Neo, M. L., & Todd, P. A. (2013). Conservation status reassessment of giant clams (Mollusca: Bivalvia: Tridacninae) in Singapore. Nature in Singapore6, 125-133.

Giant Clam. (n.d.). Oceana. Retrieved 15 March 2017, from http://oceana.org/marine-life/corals-and-other-invertebrates/giant-clam

Words by: Chow Tak Wei