How time flies! It seems like just yesterday when the idea of having a nature guiding group was conceived by a few Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) undergraduates wanting to share their love for nature with the public. 3 years down the road and having trained generations of BES students, let us now take a trip down memory lane to see how BES Drongos has grown over the years.
Follow that monkey?
Ever wondered how our namesake came about? Well, we named ourselves after the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), one of a few iconic birds in the Central Catchment area. These birds are extremely intelligent, with the ability to mimic the alarm calls of other birds so as to scare them away and steal the food left behind by them. Sneaky, but also really clever, aren’t they?
Our first ever public trail launch on 4 October 2014 was rained out on; what a way to begin! Nevertheless, our opening weekend on 11 and 12 October 2014 received fabulous support. Since then, Drongos has reached out to more than 500 participants over 3 years, and we certainly hope to see more of you at our trails!
Besides bringing people close to nature, we have also brought nature closer to people. Drongos has regularly held conservation booths to showcase our local biodiversity to the masses. With specimens from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, the public has never failed to be amazed by what’s out there in the wild in Singapore.
Booth at NUS Central Library on 3 November 2015
Booth at NUS University Town on 16 February 2016
On the web
Apart from physical outreach, we believe in the power of social media to garner support for our cause. Our Drongos don’t just guide; many have different talents in photography, drawing and writing!
Below we present to you a small selection of artwork by our resident artists, but be sure to check out our Facebook page and WordPress for more amazing content!
National Day 2015 (By Jacqueline Chua)
Valentine’s Day 2016 (By Jacqueline Chua)
Valentine’s Day 2017 (By Ashley Tan)
World Pangolin Day 2017 (By Ashley Tan)
Over the years, the Drongos flock has expanded, with volunteer guides from all batches of BES. We are also currently training up a new batch of guides, so do look forward to seeing them on our trails!
Looking forward, we are excited to be taking part in more outreach events to bring our love for nature to more people. For one, BES Drongos will be taking part in the NParks Parks Festival 2017 at Pasir Ris Park taking place on 28 October. We also have 2 more public trails happening on 21 October and 4 November, so do sign up for an enriching time with us!
With that, our #throwback is over but we look forward to many more great years ahead for BES Drongos. And we certainly hope YOU will be a part of this exciting journey ahead!
According to TimeandDate, 2017, the UN General Assembly recommended all countries to introduce a new annual event in 1954 in hopes of promoting fraternity and understanding between children all over the world.
That’s right! This event is called Universal Children’s Day! The UN General Assembly also suggested all countries to set an appropriate date with respect to their own country. Singapore has, since 1961, set Children’s Day as October 1. It was only in 2012 that the Ministry of Education decided to move this event to the first Friday of October (Chew, 2016).
Let’s now delve into the event with some interesting facts of young of animals and how we can relate to them (Because hey, why should they be excluded?):
Young Orangutans stay with mum until they are seven or eight, having the lengthiest childhood among great apes (Beening, 2015). That is almost twice or more the amount of time for human babies to become fully weaned (two to four years)!
Once born, a giraffe calf can stand up and walk in one hour (Beening, 2015)! Humans need about a year after birth before they are able to walk. This could be because giraffe calves have to be able protect themselves in the wild while human babies are protected from birth.
Young Panamanian golden frogs, unable to defend themselves unlike the fully toxic adult, hide until they do so with their skin secretions (Beening, 2015). Humans do not have toxic skin secretions to protect ourselves even as we mature but we do have plenty of places to hide in, like buildings, all our lives!
At about five months, rhino calves begin the growth of their iconic horns (Beening, 2015). While humans do not have a “iconic” body part, one of the most important body part, the brain, grows to 80% of adult size by age two, imagine the amount of nutrients we need from birth till then!
Dogs have 28 teeth as puppies but mature to have a full 42 (James, 2014). Humans however start with only 20 when young (10 on top and bottom each) and 32 when grown up.
Before eggs hatch, chicks can “talk” to one another and mum by cheeping through the egg (James, 2014). Imagine if humans could do that! Too bad fetuses only communicate by kicking~
If a squirrel finds an abandoned squirrel baby, it will adopt the orphan (James, 2014). I believe humans do have this culture too, in a place called the orphanage.
Young chimpanzees make dolls using sticks and rocks, then have fun with them by scolding, feeding, and cuddling them (James, 2014). Looks like we aren’t the only ones with toys! Animals have their own version of Barbie dolls too.
Many eagle chicks perform homicide on siblings to gain access to more and better food from mum (James, 2014). Aren’t you glad this does not happen to us? Phew.
Young elephants suck their trunks for comfort (ViralForest, 2015). This might be similar to how it is a natural instinct for human babies to suck and therefore leading to the invention of pacifiers!
There you have it! Happy Children’s Day to all!! 😀
The time of the year that the moon is at its brightest, roundest and fullest has finally come! Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of the loveliest Chinese festivals. For Chinese families, it’s a day for family gathering, moon-gazing and of course, indulging in delicious mooncakes.
When it comes to Mid-Autumn Festival, what comes to your mind must be mooncakes, lanterns, and (maybe) the legends related to it. However, this post is not going to be about any of them! Because today, October 4th, is also World Animal Day! World Animal Day is a social movement which aims to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe, making the world a better place for all animals (find out more here: https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/). So, to celebrate both the Mid-Autumn Festival and World Animal Day, let us tell you about the story of the moon and the animals associated with it ~
Chapter 1: The Time Keeper
Most animals, including humans, have bodily rhythms governed by the sun. However, the moon also controls several mysterious circadian clocks in many animals, both marine and land, and especially nocturnal creatures.
How does the moon clock work? The moon provides time cues to animals via two ways: changes in moonlight and tides. These two environmental cycles are the result of the lunar cycle (the number of days required for the Moon to orbit around the Earth) and the lunar day (the number of hours required for the Moon to travel by the same spot on Earth). These environmental changes can be perceived by animals and plants, cueing them to behave in certain ways and perform certain activities at certain timings to survive in the wild.
During full moon, corals are all ready to make babies
For hundreds of species of corals, the full moon sets the great atmosphere for lovemaking. Corals keep close watch for changes in moonlight. As the full moon arrives, corals release huge amounts of eggs and sperm into the water at the same time – a mass-spawning event and one at the most massive scale on Earth. This mass coral spawning event just happened in Singapore in April 2017!
Researchers had found that corals are able to perceive the blue region of the visible light spectrum and are extremely sensitive to the spectra that match that of the blue moonlight. By synchronizing spawning, the free-floating sperm and eggs have a higher chance to come into contact with one another and undergo fertilisation in the vast ocean. This lovemaking event always occurs on or near a full moon.
Turtles ride waves onto shore during high tide to lay eggs
While the moonlight tells corals when to spawn, tidal changes inform sea turtles on when to lay their eggs. Females of most species come ashore at night during high tide to lay their eggs on the beach.
Light changes during the lunar cycle not only represent time cues to many species, but also affect the animals’ use of senses.
Chapter 2: The Compass
Not only do species rely on moonlight to tell time, some also use the moon to navigate their way to find food and go back home!
“Just keep walking, just keep walking”
Under a dark night sky, newly hatched baby sea turtles depend on moonlight reflecting off the ocean surface to guide them toward the sea. Just in August, 32 Hawksbill turtle hatchlings were sighted at Each Coast Park, trying to find their way to the sea!
Hawksbill turtle hatchling at East Coast Park in August (Source: NParks Facebook)
Besides sea turtles, dung beetles also use polarized moonlight as a compass to roll its ball of poop in a straight line in order to escape competitors.
Chapter 3: A fine dinner under the moonlight
Dining under the moonlight may be a romantic scene to us, but how is it like in the animal kingdom?
Let’s play hide and seek
Full moons shine extra light onto the landscape. Many predators in the animal kingdom take advantage of this, and find it easier to spot and hunt their prey. Nightjars and owls were found to be more efficient in foraging when there is moonlight, and avoid activity at dark nights. It may seem that predators have an edge as the moon brightens. However, many prey have also stepped up their game. During bright nights, prey dramatically reduce their night activity and go into hiding. There are also prey which find it easier to detect and evade predators, and are daring enough to increase activity levels. Doodlebugs, the larvae of dragonfly-like insects called antlions, dig bigger holes to trap insect prey during full moon nights as the prey are more active.
Light is important to both humans and wildlife. Lightbulbs are seen as one of the greatest inventions of all time. However, in today’s world, our use of light has become so excessive that it is disrupting the natural patterns of light and dark, altering the behaviour of wildlife and functions of ecosystems. The baby sea turtles found at East Coast Park were found to be circling on the beach. The bright streetlights were distracting the hatchlings, and they were unable to follow the moonlight to the sea.
Every flip of a light switch is contributing to altering natural patterns of mating, migration, feeding, and pollination, at a rate which species are unable to adapt. Not only does ecological light pollution affect wildlife, studies have shown that it has profound impacts on human health too. Nocturnal light disrupts our sleep and confuses our circadian rhythms. After all, humans are animals as well.
As you enjoy your mooncakes and appreciate the full moon tonight (if it is visible), we hope that this post will increase your appreciation of the importance of the moon to both humans and wildlife, and encourage you to reduce and fight light pollution!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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).
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!
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.
Hardworking beaver constructing its dam. (Source: Dave Small-http://bangordailynews.com/slideshow/industrious-beavers-are-hard-at-work/)
A Beaver Dam in Wyoming (Source: Wildlife Conservation Society-http://www.livescience.com/7580-beaver-dams-boost-songbird-populations.html)
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’!
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
The BES Drongos adventures on the Petai Trail and more!