Tag Archives: biodiversity

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).

The Flora of Singapore: Woody Liana

Before we get into anything, what’s a woody liana? Liana (or Liane) is a woody plant that is rooted to the soil but which requires physical support from a neighbouring tree. Its weak stem and branches rely on other plants to reach the light. Since they are not self-supporting, their stems are narrow and flexible.

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Large lianas in a forest indicate that the forest consists of many matured trees and plants.

When a liana reaches the top of its host, it puts out searcher shoots to look for a taller support of suitable diameter. Searcher shoots can extend up to 2m from their last support; if they are not able to find another support, they fall over and will be replaced by another shoot. While most vines climb to the canopy with the help of taller supports, some vines climb up the stems of other vines attached in the canopy.

Once the liana reach the canopy, they begin to grow between the tree crowns. These bridges are very important to animals that cannot fly long distances. Without such bridges between crowns, these animals would have to descend to the ground where they are very vulnerable to predators. However, these connections also increase the possibility of trees pulling their neighbours along with them when they fall.

As liana grow over the trees that provide them physical support, they are the trees’ strong competitors for sunlight. In additional, since barely any resources are invested in making their stems and branches thicker, vines use a large amount of their resources to grow more leaves, and for reproduction. Since lianas grow very fast, it is to their disadvantage if they climb onto trees that are slow in growth.

Although lianas hinder forest regrowth in canopy gaps, many animals rely on them for the nutrition in their leaves, nectar, fruits, sap and pollen.

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Now, you might be wondering if there is any relationship between us and lianas. Indeed, we make use of lianas in a variety of ways; from providing fresh drinking water (vines are usually hollow, transport water through the liana) to producing poisons and drugs (curare, a chemical used for muscle relaxation and in arrow poisons by South American Indians is obtained from a type of liana). Indeed, vines are extremely useful to humans.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading about lianas as much as I enjoyed learning about them! Indeed, there is so much to learn about the flora around us!

Writer: Thang Hui Lin

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2000, December 14). Liana. Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/plant/liana#accordion-article-history

Maheshwari, R. (2009). Structural characteristics of a giant tropical liana and its mode of canopy spread in an alien environment. Current Science , 58.

Putz, F. E. (2012). Vine Ecology. Retrieved from Ecology: http://www.ecology.info/vines.htm

 

 

The Bio”D” in Disney

It is a widely known fact that many of the beloved Disney characters that we are all too familiar with are based on actual animals. But really, how well do we know about the real-life creatures that inspired them? And how accurate are their real-life behaviours being portrayed through their fictional counterparts? Amongst many, five characters across the Disney universe have been chosen for you to compare fact to fiction because it is honestly such a pity that many of these real-life creatures and their equally interesting character traits lay hidden behind the spotlight.

  • Winnie the Pooh- Canadian Black Bear

(Credits: Heroes Wiki, Alex Pawlowski, New York Public Library)

One of the most timeless and oldest characters in Disney history, Winnie the Pooh, needs no introduction. He was based upon a teddy bear owned by the creator’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. Though the original teddy bear was not based on any actual bear species, the boy named it “Winnie” after a Canadian black bear that lived at the London Zoo. Perhaps this explains the stark difference in fur colour!

Fact:

Winnie the Pooh had a chronic addiction to honey and constantly plotted ways to raid hives with his Hundred Acre companions. Canadian black bears, or bears in general, do in fact love raiding hives too! They have short, non-retractable claws that allow them to climb up trees to reach the heights the hives are at.

Fiction:

While you only ever see Pooh Bear consuming honey, actual bears may be going in for the more succulent prize, as they are rather opportunistic eaters with a taste for almost anything. The bees and larvae are extremely nutritional and rich in protein and fat.

Also, actual bears are coated with long, thick fur which makes it hard for bees to reach the skin surface and sting them, thus making them resistant to bee stings. Their faces and ears, however, are areas uncovered with fur, so they are not completely immune either. So in fact, Pooh doesn’t have to make such elaborate plans just to get to his meals.

2) Zootopia’s Mr. Big – Arctic shrew

 

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Clara Chaisson)

You’d be surprised at the amount of thought that went into casting the characters of “Zootopia”. As a good example, the filmmakers consulted animals experts for “the most vicious carnivore” to play the part of the Mafia king of sorts, and it surprisingly was this petite little creature.

 Fact:

Shrews are as much of savages as Mr. Big in the film. Though seemingly adorable and harmless, these rodents will not hesitate to take on animals larger than them, such as mice, snakes, and scorpions. At one point, it was even believed that the shrew’s bite was poisonous, but it was later discovered that the saliva of some shrew species are lethal to mice and can cause substantial pain to humans. In fact, they hold economic value to farmers, ridding them of pests like insects and slugs.

Fiction:

It would be highly unlikely that an arctic shrew would possess such a wide network of family, friends, and servants, for they are highly solitary animals. Adults are territorial to the point where any forced extended interaction between two shrews would render one of them dead within a matter of days, as studies have shown.

3) The Lion King’s Timon and Pumba – Meerkat and Warthog

(Credits: Toonbaboon, Metro News)

It’s everyone favourite comedic duo and #BFFgoals, Timon and Pumba from “The Lion King”! Have you ever wondered whether these inseparable characters are based on actual, real-life animal interactions? Let’s put their friendship to the test.

It’s…fiction!

The meerkat-looking animals you see in the photograph on the right are actually mongooses and not meerkats! (That’s right, it’s not mongeese.) Warthogs and mongooses have been observed to share a rather rare form of symbiotic relationship between mammals known as mutualism, where both parties benefit – the warthogs cleaned and the mongooses fed.

Limited research has been conducted on this behaviour, though if you would like some evidence, do check out the 2010 BBC special called “Banded Brothers”, here:

4) Finding Nemo’s Pearl – FlapJack Octopus

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Dante Fenolio)

That’s right, for all those of you who thought this adorable character was a jellyfish or squid of sorts, you were wrong! This is a flapjack octopus, appropriately named after the way it collapses on the seabed, looking like mush. Unfortunately, that’s about the point where the resemblance ends, and from here it’s mostly…

Fiction:

If there were indeed fish schools, Pearl would probably not be going to school with the other fishes as octopuses are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and very possibly the most intelligent invertebrate on earth. They have highly developed nervous systems that allow them to solve puzzles, mimic other animals through camouflage, and develop both long and short-term memory.

Sadly, Pearl and her father would not have coexisted in the same time period either. Octopuses mate sacrificially, as after they practice external fertilization, the males wander off to die shortly after, and the females either starve to death obsessively guarding the eggs for many months (depending on the species), or her own body degenerates on its own. This, coupled with the fact that octopuses only live from a few months to a few years, is why experts think that humans are instead the dominant intelligence on earth because there was no way for octopuses to accumulate and pass down knowledge without generational overlap, despite their incredible cognitive and learning abilities.

5) Jungle Book’s King Louie – Gigantopithecus

(Credits: Walt Disney. Co, Wookieepedia)

Enough of the present, let’s dig up some of the past! Those of you who have watched the 2016 version of The Jungle Book might have guessed that King Louie’s character is based on the extinct ape species, Gigantopithecus, the largest primate to ever roam the earth.

Fact:

Indeed, it is possible for an early human and this real-life King Kong to have crossed paths. Archaeologists found the fossil remains of the Gigantopithecus in parts of Asia, India included (where the movie was set in), and it existed alongside human ancestors, Homo Sapien and Homo Erectus, for tens of thousands of years.

Its size is no disappointment either, as the Gigantopithecus easily stood up to 3 metres tall and weighed up to 600 kg! (There is, however, a slight locational discrepancy, as the species found in India, G. Giganteus, is only slightly taller than a human, as compared to its much more massive China counterpart.)

 Fiction:

Sadly, a meetup between King Louie and Mowgli would not have been possible, as the Gigantopithecus has been extinct for around 300, 000 to 400, 000 years ago.

Poor King Louie might also have been overly demonized as the Gigantopithecus, after research on its dental structure, has been proven to be a gentle giant with a general liking for bamboo – its cavities closely resembles that of a giant panda, indicating similar diets.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this magical carpet ride, and realised that actual animals can also be as fascinating as their fictional counterparts!

 

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. Barras, C. (2018). Jungle tales: the real King Louie was the biggest ape of all. [online] Newscientist.com. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2088989-jungle-tales-the-real-king-louie-was-the-biggest-ape-of-all/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Bear.org. (2018). North American Bear Center – What do bears like to eat in a beehive?. [online] Available at: https://www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/foraging-a-foods/206-what-do-bears-like-to-eat-in-a-beehive.html [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Defenders of Wildlife. (2018). Basic Facts About Black Bears. [online] Available at: https://defenders.org/black-bear/basic-facts [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Disney Wiki. (2018). Mr. Big (Zootopia). [online] Available at: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Big_(Zootopia) [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Encyclopedia.com. (2018). shrew facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about shrew. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/animals/vertebrate-zoology/shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Arctic shrew. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Gigantopithecus. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigantopithecus [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Griggs, M. (2018). Consent Form | Popular Science. [online] Popsci.com. Available at: https://www.popsci.com/warthogs-take-themselves-to-mongoose-gleaners [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Harness, J. and 1, R. (2018). 11 Things You Might Not Know About Winnie the Pooh. [online] Neatorama. Available at: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/01/18/11-things-you-might-not-know-about-winnie-the-pooh/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Manning, E. (2018). ASK A WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. [online] Adfg.alaska.gov. Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=371 [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Nuwer, R. (2018). Ten Curious Facts About Octopuses. [online] Smithsonianmag.com. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Softschools.com. (2018). Octopus Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/octopus_facts/23/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. YouTube. (2018). A Warthog Spa – Banded Brothers – Series 1 Episode 1 Preview – BBC Two. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXW_1i1pA0w [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

International Biodiversity Day 2018

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Happy International Biodiversity Day! Today, 22 May 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the day the Convention on Biological Diversity came into effect. Why not celebrate by donating a tree or two in support of our planet?

The Trillion Tree Campaign has allowed people around the world to pledge and donate to plant trees since its 2006 launch by the United Nations Environment Programme. As of 2016, more than 14.2 billion trees have been planted by people who care about the earth. Last year, the campaign set a new goal of a trillion trees. A 2015 study by Yale found that there are about 3.04 trillion trees on earth. However, we lose about 15 billion trees each year – imagine what a difference we could make with a trillion trees! You could become a part of that movement with just a few clicks.

Join in the effort at https://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/treecounter/billion-tree-campaign-2, and spread the word!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sources:

Earthflight (2011) BBC One.

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

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

 

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