Category Archives: conflict

Not the Right Cull – Monkey Culling vs Monkey Guarding

Cute and tenacious, one of the most well-known and prevalent animals in Singapore is none other than the Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fasicularis). Also known as the Crab-eating Macaque, these intelligent creatures have even been observed to make and use tools for foraging. While we at Drongos love and appreciate Singapore’s resident monkeys, some Singaporeans have had less positive experiences with these macaques.

Untitled.pngThe Long-tailed Macaque!

Along with their intelligence, long-tailed macaques have also been associated with mischief and trouble, especially among those that live near their natural habitats. Residential areas bordering forest fringes where these macaques live (like near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve) are prone to macaque “intrusion”. There have been reports of food being stolen from houses or even cases of macaques causing damage to property. In fact, ever since Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) opened their a 24-hour hotline for animal-related issues, there has been an increase in the number of complaints on macaques specifically. Unfortunately, the only response to these complaints is to simply cull these macaques who are merely acting on instinct.

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I’m sure most nature enthusiasts are familiar with such signs! Top ;Bottom

In 2015 alone, AVA reported (and we note that these are only the reported numbers) that over 2,500 animals were euthanised including 623 monkeys. Riley, Jayasri and Gumert (2015) found that there exists at most only 1,900 wild long-tailed macaques in Singapore and this translates to over 30% of the macaque population being culled! Not only is this cruel, but according to MP Louis Ng, such widespread culling does not target the root cause, and other measures need to be considered to tackle the issue. Specifically, it is highlighted that because only young and inexperienced macaques are caught and killed, more young macaques will continue to be born to “disturb” residents or parkgoers. From this, it is clear that culling is not only futile, but it has been argued that it also hinders progress by preventing the necessary discourse to promote human-macaque co-existence (Yeo & Neo, 2010).

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Taken from the AVA website.

As seen by the guide above, AVA and NParks have provided ways to reduce this human-macaque conflict in households. In addition to these measures, we also propose another method as a peaceful and sustainable alternative to culling – monkey guarding! Our friends over at the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) provide “Monkey Guards” training which teaches the security officers to peacefully guide the macaques away or scare them off. We also highlight that this extends to affected home-owners (and even the general public) so that they too can learn how to deter macaques safely and effectively should they need to. The last training date was 15th September 2018, and though they have yet to update the website for the next one, do keep a lookout if you are interested!

Educating the public on how to interact with wildlife is indeed a better solution for human-wildlife conflict in Singapore. On the other hand, culling is a quick and easy method to seemingly deal with the problem but, as mentioned, it is also one that can actually hinder the promotion of co-existence. By understanding that it is natural for animals like the long-tailed macaques to be resourceful in finding food and even more so in aggressively defending themselves if they feel threatened, monkey guarding serves as a great first step to general human-wildlife conflicts. We believe that this is a crucial part of learning to co-exist with the wildlife in Singapore, especially if we consider the fact that our growing urban areas constantly encroach natural habitats, causing such conflicts.

For a highly developed island, Singapore’s natural landscape is limited yet vibrant – this is as good a reason as any for us to cherish and protect it together with all the animals that support and sustain it. As such, it is incredibly important that we be mindful of our actions and interactions with the wildlife that we live alongside. As NParks is slated to take over AVA’s role in managing such animal-related issues, perhaps it is also a good opportunity to reconsider our policies, initiatives and responses to animal conflicts.

 

References:

Riley, C. M., Jayasri, S. L., & Gumert, M. D. (2015). Results of a nationwide census of the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) population of Singapore.

Yeo, J. H., & Neo, H. (2010). Monkey business: human–animal conflicts in urban Singapore. Social & Cultural Geography11(7), 681-699.

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Why boycott Kopi Luwak?

Kopi Luwak is one of the world’s most expensive coffee; one cup can cost about 80USD (109SGD). But what is Kopi Luwak? Simply put, it is coffee made from coffee beans that have been through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (Luwak in Indonesian).

Brief process of making of Kopi Luwak

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Image from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/

Kopi Luwak was rumoured to originate in the 18th century in Indonesia, which was still under the Dutch colonial rule. At that time, the natives toiling in the coffee industry were not allowed to taste any of the coffee that they have been working to produce.  At the same time, they observed that the wild civets also ate coffee cherries, leaving undigested coffee beans in their excretions. Thus, the farmers collected these seeds, cleaned and roasted them to make their own brew of coffee.

Later, the Dutch discovered this special brew of coffee, and they found that it tasted better than what they had. It is said to be because civets only chose the ripest cherries, so coffee beans found in their faeces are uniformly of the best quality. In addition, the fermentation process and natural enzymes in the civet’s intestines break down some of the proteins in coffee beans. This results in coffee that is more aromatic, less bitter, and smoother (less acidic). Even so, the question of whether it indeed tastes better than other gourmet coffee yields varying opinions. While some say it tastes better, more feel no difference, or even say that it is worse, because it is bland (due to its lower acidity) and does not taste as complex.

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Image from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/

Nevertheless, the popularity of Kopi Luwak grew rapidly, with many wanting to have a taste of this exotic (and expensive) beverage. Yet, it is difficult to find the faeces of the civets in the wild; only about 250-500kg of wild Kopi Luwak beans are produced each year, nowhere near enough for this industry to be commercially viable. As a result, farmers started to cage the civets for their precious droppings, without considering their welfare.

In the worst cases, some farm owners crammed the civets in tiny cages and exclusively fed them coffee cherries. However, wild civets are solitary, territorial animals. When forced so close to each other, especially in such poor living conditions and only allowed a limited diet, gory outcomes result: they fight with each other, chew away their own limbs, start passing blood in their faeces, and eventually die. With only coffee cherries provided to them, eating them is no longer a choice, it is their only option. Essentially, the high quality associated with Kopi Luwak is eroded. To make things worse, these civet farms even became tourist attractions, where many would come to the coffee plantation to see the civets, then enjoy a cup of Kopi Luwak.

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Image by Ulet Ifansasti, Getty Images

After so many years, what propels this industry is the high demand for Kopi Luwak. From a commercial product, it had grown to become a tourist attraction, where tourists are invited to view the captured civets, processing of coffee beans, then have a cup of Kopi Luwak. Apart from the ethicality of this practice, the authenticity of the coffee sold is also questionable. Coffee labelled Kopi Luwak may not have been anywhere close to a civet, or only contains a small percentage of the real deal, but are sold at exorbitant prices (compared to normal coffee). While it may seem fine to drink authentic coffee beans obtained from wild civets, this perception is wrong. There are no certification schemes and it is simply impossible to determine the source of coffee. If the demand does not die down, the conditions of these civets will only get worse.

Now, there is only one effective way to protect these civets: stop drinking Kopi Luwat completely.

By Shenny Goh

References

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world! (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wisotzky, M. (2017, August 1). Kopi Luwak anyone? It’s just $80 a cup. Retrieved from https://coffeewithoutlimits.com/kopi-luwak-anyone-just-80-cup/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Animal Coffee (n.d.). The History of Kopi Luwak. Retrieved from http://coffeeroastersdirect.com/the-history-of-kopi-luwak/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Kolbu, C. (2015, April 22). What Kopi Luwak is and why you should avoid it. Retrieved from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wild, T. (2013, September 13). Civet coffee: Why it’s time to cut the crap. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/13/civet-coffee-cut-the-crap (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Bale, R. (2016, April 29). The Disturbing Secret Behind the World’s Most Expensive Coffee. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160429-kopi-luwak-captive-civet-coffee-Indonesia/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Save A Spider Day

It’s Save a Spider Day! OK, I know you’re about to click away because spiders are, well, look at them. If you haven’t gazed deep into a spider’s multiple eyes and shuddered, then you’re just a big, hairy, leggy, liar. But if you think about it, like really think about it, you’d probably still choose to live in a world with spiders in it, rather than without. I mean, I doubt Baygone would be a good enough substitute for a worldwide population of diverse spiders deviously conspiring 24/7 to eliminate their next insect. Do you like birds? Well, good, because birds love spiders. (As food.) Do you like diseases? No? Then thank your lucky stars, because spider venom will soon be used to treat a variety of diseases that cause muscular dystrophy. By the way, can YOU pull the natural world’s strongest material out of your butt? No? Then please, take a seat. (If yes, call 995.)

Hey, check out this fancy boy over here.

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Video: Jurgen Otto (https://www.youtube.com/user/Peacockspiderman)

Fashion week has nothing on this male peacock spider. When it’s time to find a lady, the male peacock spiders show off their brightly coloured backs and sweet moves. Peacock spiders are tiny, with the largest species measuring a whopping 5mm. Imagine that, a tiny colourful speck waving its arms at you because that’s the sexy thing to do. Also, the females eat the males who don’t dance well enough, but let’s not dwell on that.

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This spectacular shot by local wildlife photographer Nicky Bay does great justice to the silvery markings on the mirror spider’s abdomen. When the spider is at rest, the silvery shapes on its abdomen visibly enlarge. It almost looks like a piece of stained glass art!

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Photo: ggalice via Flickr

Net casting spiders are metal as it gets. They weave webs that resemble fishnets, which they then launch at their prey to capture them.

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Photo: Nicky Bay

Look at those eyes. They’re not messing around.

Next time you see a spider, maybe think twice before screaming and squashing it (you can still scream, though). First of all, it cannot be denied that spiders are way cooler than us and also do us a huge favour by catching insects. Second of all, I don’t think you’d want to make an enemy of a spider at this point.

 

Sources:

http://www.medicaldaily.com/venom-medicine-how-spiders-scorpions-snakes-and-sea-creatures-can-heal-328736

http://animals.mom.me/importance-spiders-ecosystem-6242.html

 

Fragmentation Explained!

If you take a look a map of Singapore’s natural habitats such as the one from the Singapore Biodiversity: An encyclopaedia of the natural environment and sustainable development1, you might notice something glaringly obvious. Our natural habitats are generally small and isolated from each other with large patches of urban landscape between them (the white space!). This is known as habitat fragmentation and it poses a threat to biodiversity through a number of different ways.

Firstly, fragmentation reduces the amount of habitat available to organisms1. This poses a problem as it restricts the resources available to them and prevents them from crossing over to other habitat fragments to mate, resulting in in-breeding. So why is in-breeding bad for biodiversity? In-breeding is a problem because little genetic diversity in each fragment could possibly result in the accumulation of non-desirable genetic traits. Thus, the survivability of the population would be reduced.

Also, with little genetic diversity, populations are less able to adapt to changes in their environment like new pathogens. Unfortunately, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) proves to be a good case study of the damages of habitat fragmentation1. In the past, BTNR was connected to the larger Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) but from 1983 to 1986, the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) was constructed and it isolated BTNR1. As a result of this, the population of banded leaf monkeys (Presbytis femoralis) that used to live in BTNR was unable to survive1 with the last surviving member recorded to have died in October 1987. To make things worse, there were also many records of animals that got run over when they attempted to cross the expressway1.

A banded leaf monkey. Image source: http://www.wildsingapore.per.sg/discovery/factsheet/bandleafmonkey.htm
Roadkill found along Mandai Road near Bukit Timah Expressway, 11 June 2001. Image source: http://www.wildsingapore.per.sg/discovery/factsheet/leopardcat.htm

On top of the isolation that is caused by fragments, there is another phenomenon known as “edge effect” caused by fragmentation2.  Edge effect occurs as fragmentation increases the amounts of “edge” a habitat has and this edge tends to have differing physical conditions compared to the habitat interior2. For example, in forest habitats, the edge would tend to receive more light and stronger winds resulting in increased temperature and reduced humidity compared to the forest interior2. Certain animals may not be able to adapt to these habitats and as such have their habitat range even further restricted to only the forest interior, possibly resulting in local extinctions.

Fortunately, steps have been taken to mitigate the effects of fragmentation. One of these measures is the construction of the Eco-Link@BKE, a ecological corridor over the BKE meant to allow wildlife to pass through. The Eco-Link@BKE was completed last year and plants were planted on it to simulate a forest habitat to encourage animals to cross it. With luck, this ecological corridor would allow animals that were isolated in CCNR like the lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil) to expand their range into BTNR. References

  1. Ng, P. K. L., Corlett, R., & Tan T. W. H. (2011). Singapore biodiversity: An encyclopaedia of the natural environment and sustainable development. Singapore: Didier Millet in association with Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
  2. Chattjea, K. (2014). Edge effects and exterior influences on Bukit Timah Forest, Singapore. European Journal of Geography, 5(1).

Words by: Lee Juin Bin

BiodiverCITY: Why hello, I didn’t see you!

Believe it or not, Singapore’s landscape used to be covered by lush green forests! Now, more than 95% of these natural habitats have been lost. Our urban landscape consists of concrete buildings and paved roads, which have replaced these natural habitats with environments that humans find comfortable; which may not be very favourable to animals resulting in a decline in biodiversity. But there are animals that are capable of surviving the urban jungle! Humans are the top of the food chain, as kings and queens of this environment. Somewhere in between the nooks and crannies of our high-rise living quarters, industrial spaces and green parks are flora and fauna that have adapted to survive and infiltrate our world, living amongst us – sometimes so sneaky that we miss them for their obvious presence! These include the Javan mynas (Acridotheres javanicus) and rock pigeons (Columba livia).

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The Javan myna: a non-native bird so common we couldn’t miss it even if we tried! Photo credit: Nicholas Lim
Changeable Lizard Emmanuel Goh
The changeable lizard (non-native) Photo credit: Emmanuel Goh
Green crested Lizard_Sean Yap
The green-crested lizard (native) Photo credit: Sean Yap

Another non-native that is commonly seen in our parks and gardens is the changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor) (left picture); it is suspected to have out-competed the native green crested lizard (Brochela cristatella) (on the right), causing the latter to be absent from our urban areas. 2. Despite this, some native species have managed to adapt to our hostile concrete jungle, and can be found in some of our parks and gardens. Keep an eye out for them the next time you walk through a park, and if you happen to spot them please pictures with us on our Facebook page hereYellow-vented bulbul (Pycononotus goiavier)

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A yellow-vented bulbul surveys its built-up surroundings from its perch on a Tembusu tree in the Education Resource Centre at University Town, NUS. Photo credit: Nicholas Lim

The yellow-vented bulbul is a very common perching bird often seen in our parks and gardens. It can be easily recognized by the black band around its eyes, the yellow patch of feathers under its tail and its loud bubbling calls. Yellow-vented bulbuls feed on a  wide variety of food ranging from fruits like figs to nectar to insects, a possible reason for their success in living in our concrete jungle. That’s right folks: being non-picky at meal times is a strategy to living in a city. More than that, they are extremely resourceful, foraging for insects and seeds in bushes and trees, and even the ground from our roads and pavements.

Pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)

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Photo credit: Nicholas Lim

The pink-necked green pigeon is the only species of green pigeon in Singapore that is commonly seen outside of our forests2. Like all green pigeons, they are arboreal – which means they like to stay on tall trees for a safe perch, so look up if you’re trying to spot them! The picture above is a male bird. How do we know? Look at the colours! Males of this species have a grey head, a pink neck and an orange breast while females have a uniform green plumage. Many species of birds display this kind of difference between the sexes where the male is more colourful and attractive than the female. The reason for this difference is that in the animal kingdom, it is often the female that chooses the mate. As such, the male has to be able to stand out and attract the female’s attention.  Paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) The paradise tree snake could be found in parks and gardens, in forests and in mangroves2. However, snakes can be hard to spot as they would usually avoid humans. The paradise tree snake is a gliding snake (Chrysopelea spp.)2. These snakes are so named because of their ability to flatten their body to form a concave surface which traps air allowing them to glide from tree to tree. To see how this is movement can be compared to James Bond’s ejector seat, check out this short documentary clip (with awesome playback): Lesser dog-faced fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis)

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This little guy was found and photographed in someone’s house! If you ever do see one in your house, do not panic, you could call ACRES to have them remove it and relocate it to the wild. Photo credit: Sean Yap

Contrary to the phrase “blind as a bat”, fruit bats like the lesser dog-faced fruit bat (also known as the common fruit bat) have excellent night vision which they use to find fruits2. Fruit bats are very important to the ecosystem as they serve as pollinators and seed dispersers for many plants, including the very popular durian2.

Wild cinnamon (Cinnamomum iners)

Wild Cinnamon
The wild cinnamon has downward-pointing young leaves which are usually reddish pink!

New leaves of the wild cinnamon are reddish pink in colour, darkening to a dark green over time creating an attractive sight when the tree is growing new leaves. Due to this, the wild cinnamon is planted all over Singapore to beautify our city. The wild cinnamon also has significant ecological roles as its fruits provide a food source for frugivorous birds and mammals and its leaves are food for the caterpillars of some butterfly species like the common mime (Chilasa clytia clytia) and common bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon luctatius) Fishtail palm (Caryota mitis)

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The leaves of the fishtail palm look like battered tail fins of betta fish, right?

The fishtail palm is very easily recognized by its leaves which are shaped like a fish’s tail. The fishtail palm produces flowers and fruits in a cluster that looks like a mop. The fishtail palm is suspected to fruit all year round and as such provides a reliable food source for frugivorous mammals and birds like the pink-necked green pigeon and the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). That being said, do not touch the fruits of the fishtail palm or attempt to eat them as they will cause severe itchiness. References

  1. Ng, P. K. L., Brook, B. W., & Sodhi, N. S. (2003). Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore. Nature, 424(6947), 420-426.
  2. Ng, P. K. L., Corlett, R., & Tan T. W. H. (2011). Singapore biodiversity: An encyclopaedia of the natural environment and sustainable development. Singapore: Didier Millet in association with Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

words by: Lee Juin Bin