Category Archives: nature and technology

Endangered Species Day

Summer break is finally here and perhaps you’re thinking of going on a vacation and exploring the world. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who will actually be doing that this summer. However, for those who aren’t that lucky, fret not! In commemoration of Endangered Species Day, we’ll take you on a journey around the world (all seven continents!) while showing you some of the endangered species that inhabit these places.

First off, what’s Endangered Species Day? This special day is part of a campaign organised by the Endangered Species Coalition. Through the Endangered Species Day, the Coalition hopes to educate people of all ages about the significance of protecting endangered species, as well as inform people about the everyday efforts that they can undertake to contribute to conservation. In 2018, Endangered Species Day will be commemorated on May 18th. Although efforts for Endangered Species Day are largely concentrated in the United States, we will be focusing on species found around the world for this blog post and the conservation statuses of these organisms will be based off the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Asia – Gymnoderma insulare [Endangered]

asia

Starting from home in Asia, we have Gymnoderma insulare, which is a well-documented lichen due to its rarity in the wild. This lichen was only found in five locations in Japan (during the period of 1926-2012) and Taiwan (in 2007). It grows at the bottom of tree trunks in old forests, specifically the trees Cryptomeria japonica (in Japan) and Chamaecyparis obtusa (in Taiwan). Old-growth forests with these two tree species were and continue to be threatened by forestry and natural hazards such as typhoons.

Australia – Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) [Critically Endangered]

2

(Credits: Jeremiah Blatz)

Going down under, the hawksbill turtle can be found nesting in small numbers along the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. The Dampier Archipelago and Montebello Islands (off the northwest coast of Australia) are home to one of the biggest hawksbill populations globally. Sadly, these majestic creatures face many threats such as tortoiseshell trade, egg poaching and destruction of nesting habitats – all of which severely affect their population and ability to reproduce.

Antarctica – Amsterdam albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis) [Critically Endangered]

3.jpg

(Credits: Dominique Filippi)

Prepare your thick fur coats and stay warm, for we’re heading to Antarctica! Look up, as you may see the Amsterdam albatross, which is a humongous bird with a wingspan of up to 340cm. It is an endemic species, which means that it breeds only on the Plateau des Tourbières on Amsterdam Island. The latest data shows the total population standing at about 170 birds. Although the recent growing population has been encouraging, it is projected that in the long run, the albatross populations will see a continuing decline due to a disease that results in chick mortality.

Africa – Senecio exuberans [Endangered]

4.jpg

(Credits: Peter Wragg)

Ditch the winter wear and get decked out in easy breezy clothes as we traverse the vast grasslands of Africa. Senecio exuberans was once described as ‘one of the most characteristic features’ of the grasslands around Pietermaritzburg. It’s not hard to see why, as it can grow up to 1.5m tall and its bright yellow flowers stand out among the African grasslands. This species was initially a common sight on such habitats. Unfortunately, as a result of agricultural and developmental pressures, this charismatic plant is now close to extinction.

Europe – Dusky winged fritillary (Boloria improba) [Endangered]

5.jpg

(Credits: Magnus Unger)

Next, we move on to Europe to see the beautiful dusky winged fritillary. This butterfly can only be found on exposed, grassy areas, frequently on gentle gradients within a limited geographic range in Northern Europe. Owing to its restricted range, long-term threats to this species include climate change and the subsequent changes in vegetation and timberline.

North America – Red wolf (Canis rufus) [Critically Endangered]

6.jpg

(Credits: https://www.lifeandscience.org/red-wolves)

Say hello to the red wolf in North America! Interestingly, these wolves were declared to be Extinct in the Wild by 1980. A successful reintroduction in 1987 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) led to a reintroduced population in eastern North Carolina, USA. Current population numbers within this area are less than 150. Anthropogenic threats such as moving vehicles and gunshots can pose serious dangers to this fragile population.

South America – Orincoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) [Critically Endangered]

7.jpg

(Credits: Fernando Flores)

Finally, we end off our world tour in South America, where the Orinoco crocodile resides exclusively in in the Orinoco River. Holding the title of being the largest predator in the Americas, the male Orincoco crocodiles can grow up to 6m long (that’s how tall giraffes are!). In the past, these reptilians were nearly hunted to extinction for the production of leather. Today, pollution, hunting and the collection of juvenile crocodiles for the live animal trade are the biggest threats to the population, which has been reduced to about 500 individuals.

As Endangered Species Day approaches, you could contribute to conservation efforts through simple acts such as sharing this post with your family and friends, or just by learning more about the threats that biodiversity faces. With that, we hope that you now know more about endangered animals around the world and have a great summer vacation!

References

Endangered Species Day. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.endangered.org/campaigns/endangered-species-day/

Ohmura, Y., Nadyeina, O. & Scheidegger, C. 2014. Gymnoderma insulare. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T58520980A58520984. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-3.RLTS.T58520980A58520984.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Hamann, M., & Riskas, K. (2013). Australian endangered species: Hawksbill Turtle. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/australian-endangered-species-hawksbill-turtle-16218

Mortimer, J.A & Donnelly, M. (IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group). 2008. Eretmochelys imbricata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T8005A12881238. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T8005A12881238.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

BirdLife International. 2017. Diomedea amsterdamensis (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22698310A110677305. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22698310A110677305.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Senecio exuberans | Plantz Africa. Retrieved from http://pza.sanbi.org/senecio-exuberans

Kloof Conservancy » Rare and Endangered Plants. Retrieved from https://www.kloofconservancy.org.za/rare-and-endangered-plants/

van Swaay, C., Wynhoff, I., Verovnik, R., Wiemers, M., López Munguira, M., Maes, D., Sasic, M., Verstrael, T., Warren, M. & Settele, J. 2010. Boloria improba. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T174312A7048346. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Kelly, B.T., Beyer, A. & Phillips, M.K. 2008. Canis rufus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T3747A10057394. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T3747A10057394.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Schley, R. (2016). On the brink: 10 South American species endangered by environmental changeClimate & Environment at ImperialInsights from staff and students across Imperial working in climate and environment related areas. Retrieved from https://granthaminstitute.com/2016/03/02/on-the-brink-10-south-american-species-endangered-by-environmental-change/

 

World Water Day 2018

world water day

Psst, World Water Day is coming up soon! Here’s a little tip for you to celebrate the upcoming World Water Day on March 22nd:

Go on down to one of the Singapore World Water Day (SWWD) roadshows with your latest Singapore Power (SP) bill, and if the folks at the roadshow see that you’ve been a diligent water saver, you’ll be able to receive an exclusive premium. This sweet opportunity will be waiting for you during the entirety of March, but limited stocks are available (just like one other precious, precious resource).

Find your nearest roadshow here: https://www.pub.gov.sg/getinvolved/singaporeworldwaterday

The above link is also where you can find SWWD’s official partners, including Ben & Jerry’s and oBike, who are eager to offer you a steal of a deal for the right water-saving attitude.

Here’s something to think about this World Water Day: wetlands. Sure, we need to do all we can to keep that fresh, clean, thirst-quenching clear water running out of our taps. But is that enough? Nature needs water too, and we need nature.

Urbanising cities have a common trend of gradually encroaching on natural spaces like wetlands. These cities will only expand and multiply as time passes, and it may seem a waste to preserve a wetland when it could be a bustling hub. The truth is, however, that wetlands are important to us, even to those of us who live highly urbanised environments. Wetlands provide a wide array of ecosystem services, such as absorbing excess rainfall during storms and helping to reduce the risk of flooding. Now, that’s relevant.

In particular, Singapore boasts a sprawling Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which is not only a site teeming with heritage, but also with birds of every shape and size. Native birds, exotic birds that have travelled from across the world to spend the winter in sunny Singapore – our very own wetlands are a key stopping point in the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network, which include Kakadu National Park in Australia, Mai Po in Hong Kong and the Yatsu Tidal Flats in Japan.

This World Water Day, maybe leave a little room in your thoughts for the wetlands around the world and in our own garden city, while you’re taking a short shower.

 

Goose mother

Gather round, friends. I’m going to tell you the story of Christian Moullec, world’s biggest goose mum.

You’ve probably heard about imprinting, the amazing and sometimes hilarious phenomenon where newly hatched ducklings or goslings look at the first large moving object in their field of vision and think: “That’s it. That’s my mum.”

In other words, imprinting is a process of rapidly forming strong social bonds with a parent within the first day of hatching (or, in the case of mammals, being born). This usually works pretty well, and imprinting is an important process not just in infancy, but also later in life when it’s time to mate. In this story, however, the distinguished mother goose is a 58-year-old moustachioed Frenchman named Christian Moullec. This proud parent hand reared his sweet children from gosling to goose, and the journey was nothing short of adorable spectacular.

Though it may seem cute to have a couple of fluffy little birds waddling after you, parenting is never a trivial matter. Moullec took on the grave responsibility of caring for his goslings 24/7, and this included teaching them to swim.

gif.gif

When the goslings were three weeks old, they loyally followed Moullec to a pond, where he proceeded to teach them the Goose Basics of Safe Swimming, including Looking Around for Danger, Kicking With Your Legs, and Keeping Your Feathers Oiled. By allowing the ducks to imitate his behaviour, Moullec is able to effectively teach them what any respectable mother goose can.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the geese are more fully grown and ready for the next big thing.

gif3.gif

No, you aren’t dreaming. That is a man-goose-mum in a lightweight aircraft teaching his kids to fly. Thank you, universe, for this blessing. After several training sessions in his minimalist aircraft (known as a microlight), Moullec was able to guide the geese in a graceful soar over the city of Edinburgh, riding in perfect formation.

ss1.png There goes that weird family again.

For more than twenty years now, Moullec has been raising orphaned geese and flying alongside them in his humble microlight. The purpose? To guide them along safe migratory routes. Wild bird populations have been declining in Europe, and Moullec took the matter into his own hands – into his own home, where he raises the birds which would otherwise have been lost without a parent. He also provides visitors with the opportunity to fly alongside the birds and experience the awe and wonder that he knows so well – and that’s how he funds his own project.

“The most beautiful thing to realise on earth is to fly in the heavens with the angels that are the birds.”

– Christian Moullec: pilot, parent, hero.

gif2.gif

 

 

Sources:

Earthflight (2011) BBC One.

http://www.indiana.edu/~p1013447/dictionary/imprint.htm

https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/psychology/psychology-and-psychiatry/imprinting

 

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)

Fantastic-Beasts-And-Where-to-Find-Them
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)

loraxposter.jpg
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)

rio-e1498308810540.jpg
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)

Avatar-Teaser-Poster.jpg
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)

wall-e
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

To conserve or not to conserve…

It’s officially been the second year since we have begun this venture and it’s has been a great learning adventure. This semester has been especially wild with the media buzz surrounding the Cross Island Line and all the activities surrounding the March for MacRitchie campaign.

Group photo.jpg

With seven exciting walks along the Petai Trail conducted this semester, we had a great time bringing participants along the Petai Trail and talk about the various inhabitants that share our nature reserve. From creepy-crawlies like the ferocious dragonfly to furry critters like the Slender Squirrel, there were much to explore in our nature reserve! Ecological concepts were also explored and explained using funny examples.

petai_rec-8014

The leaf litter plant (Agrostistachys indica) or as we like to call it the kiasu plant, is used to explain the concept of an ecological niche. As an understory plant, it uses a different strategy to survive among the towering canopy trees you usually find in our tropical rainforest. Like us Kiasu Singaporeans, this clever little plant has found a way to survive in this competitive environment. It doesn’t just absorb nutrients from the nutrient-poor tropical soil but also from its leaves. How? With its leaves growing in a spiral, it is able to capture the leaves that fall from its taller neighbouring trees. Using the little rootlets growing on the base of its leaves, it can absorb the nutrients directly as these leaves decomposes [1]. Talking about getting the best of both worlds!

2015.10.18 Petai Ruixiang - dragonfly (unidentified)
Just some of the cool creepy crawlers you can find in the CCNR! (Photo by Rui Xiang)

We also held conservation booths at the NUS campus. Lining up the wooden benches, we managed to display an even larger haul of preserved specimens loaned from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (Thanks again!). Cool jars filled with specimens hovering in ethanol, we were excited to share more about the species that were difficult to spot in the wild and less common to the public eye. The adorable but nocturnal Lesser Bamboo Bat is a prime example. Being one of the smallest bats, it grows only to about 4cm (the size of your thumb)! Usually found roosting in the hollow core of the bamboo, it’s not exactly the easiest creature to find [2].

Students, intrigued by creatures they don’t usually encounter, were eager to learn more about that flora and fauna we can find in our rainforest. Engaging with more than 250 students over those two days, it was encouraging to see the zest our generation had for nature. We hope that students left with a greater appreciation for our nature reserves and a deeper understanding on the Cross Island Line issue. We would like to thank all the participants who came down for our events and we hope that we have managed to incite some passion for our precious nature reserve!

IMG_5809

With the Cross Island Line still lingering at the back of the minds of Singaporeans, there have been many interesting articles that rationalise and reason out why we should conserve what’s left of Singapore’s wildlife. (While it can be argued that nature has no need for humans, that’s a story for another day.) Some might argue that we, nature lovers, tend to preach to the converted, those who are already passionate about the environment. So, here is a attempt to reach out to the stereotypical urban dweller who would rather hang out in a cool air-conditioned shopping mall than trek through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR). Other than the intrinsic value of nature, what other benefits could be used to appeal to the ever-pragmatic Singaporean masses?

With thousands of visitors heading to CCNR annually, water sports and various other recreations activities make the nature reserve a brilliant outlet for stressed-out Singaporeans to take a break from the rat race of work. “Well, Singapore has over 300 parks [3].” you might point out, “I’m sure that there is an entire spectrum of alternative green areas for Singaporeans who want to enjoy fresh air.”

2015.09.20 Petai Crystle - On the trail 2
What can the forest give us? (Photo by Crystle)

What about the ecosystem services that the CCNR provides? As the biggest continuous stretch of forest found in Singapore, it acts as the “green lungs” of our nation among various other valuable services.

“In comparison with the entire of Singapore,”you might object, “the CCNR constitutes a mere 4% of Singapore’s total land area. Does the ecosystem services it provides really make a difference to us?” Well, maybe it doesn’t make as much of an effect to the whole of Singapore but it certainly makes a difference for the residents (both animals and humans) who live near or within the CCNR.

Well, let’s bring up something that hasn’t really been touched upon: the wonder and awe that nature invokes. The natural environment has inspired humanity for centuries. From arts to architecture, natural wonders are so central to our culture and progress that almost every nation in the world has ideas and creations that reflect our awe of nature.

JP1847
The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (Photo by Met Museum)

“Wait!” you might protest, “Art and all this airy fairy stuff might be very interesting but that won’t be able to fill our rice bowls.” Well, as the wise Robbie Williams once said, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” But I see your point.

Sandra_Crimson Sunbird
Birds: The first “planes” (Photo by Sandra)

To them, I say: industries have been built on nature. The Wright Brothers, who are widely credited for inventing the first aircraft capable of sustained flight and the father of the aviation industry, were inspired by the flight of pigeons [4]. You might remain unconvinced, after all biomimetics (field of study of designs inspired by nature) is a relatively new term. Has there really been that many innovations evoked from nature to justify saving our natural environment? Singapore’s uniform and ubiquitous HDB blocks resemble lego bricks more than they do rainforest trees.

SubrajandTony-8591
Nature as a “think-tank”? (Photo by Mel)

But there is a whole plethora of nature-inspired products that can be found all around us. From the tiny pieces of velcro strapping across the white shoes of primary school students to the giant artificial “supertrees” towering over the Gardens by the Bay, there are numerous instances of innovations that have found inspiration from nature. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how all of us are successes of millions of years of continual R&D process, better known as evolution. We are all “products” that have been ruthlessly and relentlessly refined and prototyped.

2015.08.29 Petai Emmanuel - guiding 6
What’s this? Another of nature’s product?

To honour nature, the most experienced designer of us all, we will be releasing a new Nature and Technology series: Biomimicry, bringing the nature to you “innovations” of the forest. These posts will talk about creations that are inspired by the creatures we can find in our very own little island. Look forward to them!

P.S. (We will be conducting walks during the Summer! So, for all those who need a break from the urban jungle, join us at our natural one!)

  1. Wang LK, DCJ Yeo, KKP Lim & SKY Lum. (2012) Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore’s Rainforests. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore. 298 pp.
  2. Baker, Nick. (n.d.). Bamboo Bats – Tylonycteris spp. Ecology Asia. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/bats/bamboo-bats.htm
  3. National Parks Boards (2015, January 5). Parks & Nature Reserves. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves
  4. The Wright Brothers. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

Words by: Mel