The wind grew stronger as the dark clouds loomed. The meeting point was crowded with people from the approaching rain. Even the resident long-tailed macaques were indoors to seek shelter. It was a quarter to nine when our guides started to worry. Will the trail carry on or will it be cancelled? Just as the clock struck nine, the clouds started to part and the sun shone brightly on MacRitchie Reservoir Park. It was time to commence the trail!
Our five nature guides and six participants made their way to the start of Petai Trail for the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) Drongos guided walk. As they began, the team spotted the native red jungle fowl from its distinctive call. Who would have known that such a brightly-coloured and loud animal could be found in our forests?
As our guides shared about the history of Macritchie Reservoir Park as a plantation and a kampong¸ they pointed out distinctive plants that have remained through the ages. They included the tall and majestic chewing gum tree (also known as the Jelutong), and the twirling rattan tree.
The trail was filled with the sights and sounds of many of Singapore’s native wildlife. Thanks to our nature guides, our team was able to spot and identify a wide diversity of animals such as the pin striped-tit babbler, long-tailed macaques and common sun skink.
Long-tailed Macaques (Photo by Nicholas Lim)
Common Sun Skink (Photo by Nicholas Lim)
As the trail came to an end, the group was greeted by a cool breeze along the reservoir. It had been an exciting and informative trail, with both the participants and nature guides learning more about Macritchie Reservoir Park from each other.
If you are interested to learn more about the wildlife in Macritchie, then join us for a free guided walk at Petai Trail by signing up here. Our friendly nature guides would love to take you on a trail you will not forget!
Hi everyone! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that Chinese New Year is just around the corner and this year happens to be the Year of the Monkey!
Generally, people think that monkeys are adorable, curious, and highly intelligent animals – which is not untrue. However, if you’ve ever been on our guided walks or to MacRitchie Reservoir Park at all, you might have seen people scream and run away at the sight of the monkeys.
This is not without reason: the monkeys at MacRitchie have been known to snatch people’s food, bottles, and bags. Though, what people don’t know is that we created these human-macaque conflicts ourselves and all that’s required to resolve it is a simple change in behaviour. But, let’s start from the top to catch everyone up to speed 🙂
About the monkeys
The monkeys at MacRitchie are called long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and they are a forest-edge species. What this means is that rather than living deep in the forest, the macaques prefer to live at the edge of the forest, which coincides with the parks and paths that we use for our leisure.
“The macaques are aggressive and scary.”
Firstly, it is important to differentiate between aggressive and assertive. Aggressive behaviour includes biting and scratching, while assertive behaviour refers to the baring of teeth, chasing, lunging and/or grabbing. The macaques at MacRitchie are usually assertive and have in fact rarely been observed to be aggressive.
Secondly, whether the macaque is being assertive or aggressive, it is all part of their natural behaviour. Visitors to MacRitchie might have noticed that the macaques often travel in groups. This is their troop. In each troop, there is an alpha male – equivalent to the ‘dad’ of the group, and it is his responsibility to care for and protect his troop. As such, when people or dogs get too close to his family members, it is the alpha male’s instinct to display assertive and/or aggressive behaviours.
“The macaques are attracted only to red plastic bags.”
This is a strange myth and how it started remains a mystery. What we do know is that the macaques are in reality attracted not only to plastic bags of all colours, but also to any bag that is handheld (e.g. reusable bag, shoe bag, tote bag, even backpacks). Even when there is no food present, the very image of a bag carried by its handles and held in a hand results in the macaque associating the bag with food.
“The macaques are relocated when complaints are made about them.”
Many think that when people call AVA or NParks to complain about the macaques being a nuisance in the park, the macaques will then be relocated to another forest patch or the zoo. This isn’t a method employed by AVA or NParks in dealing with complaints as relocating the macaques is simply relocating the problem.
When someone makes a complaint against the macaques, the problem macaque, when identified, is actually culled, or killed. Sometimes, when the problem macaque cannot be identified, more macaques are culled 😦
It is important to be aware of the consequences your complaint might have so that you complain responsibly. Save your complaints for problems that you can’t solve. With that in mind, here are some ways in which you can help play a part in resolving the human-macaque conflict.
Imagine this: A macaque approaches and attempts to grab something from you, you scream and run. The macaque gives chase and refuses to give up. In the end, you decide to simply get rid of the monkey by giving it what it wants – throwing your food/bottle/bag at it so it will finally stop pestering you.
The above scenario is one that has been commonly observed. The macaques are smart and they learn from experience. Such submissive human behaviour teaches the monkeys that they are able to easily obtain food. It also results in them associating humans with food, which will only prompt them to approach humans more often and more aggressively.
A study in 2014 (Lai) showed that by simply changing your reaction towards macaques, the macaques will respond submissively and not attempt to grab your items. Some simple acts of deterrence include:
Making loud noises at the macaque
Making threatening gestures using tools such as umbrellas or sticks (or even your hands)
Stomping your feet.
NOTE: DO NOT HIT THEM
Avoid conflict altogether
Very simply, this means removing the exposure of any items that might trigger a macaque into initiating interaction with you. Such items include:
Other food-associated items
Plastic bags of any colour
Any hand-held bags (be it tote bags, shoe bags, drawstring bags, backpacks, etc.)
It is encouraged that you do not bring food anywhere near the forest, especially on trails, and when consuming food, please clear your trash responsibly.
Macaques are simply exhibiting their natural behaviour
It is within our power to help resolve the human-macaque conflict
Make loud noises, threatening gestures, or stomp to prevent the macaque from approaching you and/or grabbing your things
Don’t expose any food or food-related items when in the park and/or near the macaques
Ultimately, MacRitchie is our park, but it is also where the macaques live. They too have a family, and they too need a home. It’s been their home long before it was our park, so let’s all play a part in helping both species to coexist by being more understanding and tolerant towards the macaques 🙂
Hi guys, it’s been a while but we’re back! So, with all the trekking up and down the forest, we realized that a lot of Singaporeans don’t really know how to deal with wildlife. We’re a city in a garden – but do any of us knows what that really entails?
So, this post will be about wildlife-human conflict: learning how to live near a forest and all its inhabitants. Understanding this is just part and parcel of being stewards of this land, and although we claim to be fully urbanised, green spaces are also included! Living on a small island like Singapore means that we often have direct contact with any of the wildlife we have, whether they are roaming our urban landscapes as familiar creatures or encroaching on our spaces by venturing out of their usual natural habitat. The 2012 boar attack saga and our continual struggle with long-tailed macaques only highlight the fact that many of the us are still ill-equipped to deal with wild creatures in our interactions with them.
So here’s the post to boost your knowledge! We will be covering two main topics: conflict with monkeys and what to do with an injured animal.
Conflict with long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have been a huge issue in Singapore in the recent few years. As our housing estates inch closer to forested areas, so does our proximity with the residents of these nature areas. As we start to interact with one another, inappropriate behavior has exacerbated the already tense situation.
So to those who are faced with macaques, here are some tips to live by:
1. Don’t freak out.
While macaques can look terrifying at times, we are ten times more scary to them as they are to us. We are their equivalent of King Kong and not in the fun way. So when we scream and flail, our panic is palpable and they will react to the situation too. So, resist the urge to shriek and wave sticks in their direction as it only worsens the situation. If you feel that they are getting too close, establishing boundaries by pointing (not waving!); a stick will be effective. However, it’s better to just walk away and as the saying goes, Keep Calm and no seriously, keep calm.
2. Do not stare or smile (This is not a zoo exhibit).
It would be good to keep in mind that these monkeys are wild and are not domesticated or tamed in any way. Hence, staring and smiling at them as if they are in a zoo exhibit is not a good idea at all. For one staring, in monkey psychology, is an aggressive behavior and when they stare at you, this means they feel threatened. So, when you stare back, especially in the eye, you’re challenging them. Another important point is smiling, you should not, never, smile at a monkey. While we Homo sapiens view this as friendly behavior, they do not. When you bare your teeth at them, this makes them uncomfortable as fang-flashing is a scare tactic in the primate world. Should you feel the urge to coo at them, then smile with your lips and not with your teeth.
3.Plastic bags…just don’t.
Other than the fact that they’re environmentally unfriendly, the crinkling of plastic bags is, to put in the words of Amy and Sabrina (an awesome pair of monkey researchers), “monkey crack”. They have long learnt to associate plastic bags with food and they will snatch it right out your hand. Survival of the fittest so bringing one into a area where you know troops of monkeys are hanging out is like wandering into dark alleys in the middle of the night. Don’t do it. Use wonderful reusable cloth bags that make no such sound and don’t rip like plastic bags do. If you have a snack that you want to eat, try to make as little noise as you can. However, it’s not a good idea to eat in front of a troop of hungry monkeys. So if you are starving, it’s better to move to an area where there aren’t any monkeys waiting to pounce on you for your chips.
4. Monkey vs Human: Monkey wins (usually).
So the next time, a monkey snatches something of yours, don’t try to play tug of war with it. You’re not going to win even with your superior size because these macaques travel in troops and they are big on teamwork. The big males in the troop will often step in and help. It’s best to simply let them take it, your safety is more important! They usually lose interest in it and drop it. However, do take note that even things that they have set down, they still consider it theirs. So it’s better to wait until they’re not looking before you take your stuff back. Then again, it’s best to keep all your valuable items in a secure place, backpack or purse to prevent anything or getting stolen.
With that, I hope you have a better understanding on how to deal with macaques. Now, on to our second topic: What if I see an injured macaque or animal?
1. Don’t freak out.
This is pretty much the golden rule for any wildlife encounter (or really any strange encounter in life). They are already stressed from being injured and your terror will only make the situation worse.
2. Is it really injured or in need of help?
Observe them calmly for a moment to decide if they are really injured. This might sound stupid but sometimes a second glance can really clarify things. If you think you have found a lost young animal, your heart of gold tells you to rescue it. Don’t do it! Sometimes, young animals wander off like toddlers do so don’t take them even if they look lost! Their parents are often not far away and they will react negatively to you seemingly kidnapping their offspring. Moreover, removing healthy wildlife from their natural habitat is a criminal offense for majority of species in Singapore.
3. Domestic or Wild?
There are different steps to do if you are faced with a hurt dog or a hurt bat. So, take a moment to see if the animal is a domestic one (dogs, rabbits, cats etc) or a wild one (macaques, civets, bats etc.)
4 Approach the relevant authorities
Wild animals are not used to giant hands touching them and they are likely to attack if they feel threatened. Moreover, since majority of us are not trained specialists, we are far more likely to harm the animal rather than soothe it. Call ACRES Wildlife Rescue Hotline: 97837782, they will assist you and a ACRES Wildlife Rescue Team will likely be dispatched to help the animal. If you have to move it to a safer location (away from a road), cover it with a box with breathing holes and slide a lid/thin board underneath. Then, carry it away. However, it’s best not to touch it at all unless it’s in a dangerous location. Read the ACRES extremely useful website for more information.
Domestic animals like dogs and cats are used to human touch so there is a lower chance of them biting your hand if you attempt to move them. However, there is still a chance. So, check the situation and if they are snarling and growling, it’s best to just leave them as they are. Call SPCA 24 –Hour emergency hotline: 62875355. They will give you advice and assist you in helping the creature. Read their very instructive page for more detailed information on what to do.
Thus, we have come to the end of this (hopefully) informative post that will help you become better stewards of our earth! Or at least, how to handle wildlife. Well, see you at the next post:)
Many thanks to a whole lot of people who have made this post possible! Firstly, Amy and Sabrina for their great information on macaques! Secondly, Joy for sharing this information with us! Lastly, Jac for the awesome photos!
Hello everyone! The BES Drongos recently conducted our last training walk before the official opening for public trail walks.
Look at all the ready faces!
As with every walk, we see different things and it’s part of the reason why these walks are exciting because you never know what you will see! Animals aren’t stationary, like many of us who constantly check the fridge for something to eat. They are in constant motion and we cannot guarantee that you will definitely see an animal during our walks. They could be sleeping, feeding, hunting for prey… at any point in time as you’re walking along the Petai Trail boardwalk, which is a singular route that you can take along the edge of the forest that will minimise your disturbance to the quiet nature reserve.
However, the wonders of reading mean that even if you could not spot them on our walks, you can read all about what it’s like to experience them here! This post is on Variable Animals, animals that you might see along the walks – but have unpredictable behaviour and roam all over the nature reserve, unlike plants which are stationary and usually can be found in the same place from one week to the next.
This is our namesake bird, the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus). These birds are common in forested areas and have two distinctive elongated tail feather bare shafts. When they are in flight, it looks like they’re being chased by a pair of carpenter bees!
We call ourselves the Drongos because these birds, like us, are both noisy and clever. They can not only mimic calls of other birds very well, they also use this unique ability to steal food from other creatures. How do they do so? Well, they can use alarm cries known to, perhaps, pigeons to scare them away, stealing what food they have left behind. Scheming, aren’t they? This looting behavior is known as kleptoparasitism.
This video below shows how a clever fork-tailed Drongo, not the same species as the ones found here, steal food from a group of Meerkats!
This is not the only interesting foraging behavior they show. They have also been seen following in the trails of troops of monkeys to eat the insects that these monkeys stir up in their wake. In fact, our slogan, “Follow that monkey” is inspired by this sneaky behavior.
The Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) is another animal that practices Kleptoparasitism and more often than not, they steal from us! I’m sure everyone has been warned of the practice not to bring along food or plastic bags on the trail (if you have not, please read our Essential Information page for trail etiquette pointers). This is because the BES Drongos, along with people who live close to the habitats of the macaques in Singapore as well as those who frequent these places, have observed the macaques’ behaviour of having their belongings snatched away by these fleet-footed creatures.
These Old World monkeys are intelligent – they have even learned to use rocks as tools to crack open the shells of crabs to eat them! This gives rise to their other common name, the crab-eating macaque. Why crabs? These macaques originally thrived in the mangroves of Singapore where crabs are a common food source. Gradually, their populations have spilled into more forested settings, like the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
Macaques are also a species that like to roam around the edge of their habitat. Since Singapore’s forest cover has diminished over the years, these macaques have increasingly smaller areas to forage for food, and thus, they turn to urban areas. Many people, at the sight of an adorable-looking wild animal, reach for food to feed it. However, by regularly feeding these macaques, they have learnt to associate humans with food. Some of them have abandoned their usual foraging behaviours because humans subsidise them with food! The food you give them are not in their regular diet and might make them sick. So, the next time you are faced with a macaque, please keep your distance and refrain from feeding it!
This huge turtle you see here is the Asian Softshell Turtle (Amyda cartilaginea). This particular creature is fondly referred to as the “Mother-ship” by the BES Drongos. Why? As it is observed that wherever it goes, a trail of Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) seem to follow. It brings to mind a giant Mother-ship spaceship with the smaller spacecrafts swerving behind. DA DA DADADADAAAAADA DA…
Well, moving on…like the Red-eared Sliders, this species is not native to Singapore. It could have been brought over to Singapore to be boiled for soup. Yikes! Furthermore, since they are considered a delicacy in many Asian countries, their populations have been dropping. In fact, it is classified as Vulnerable under the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List. So, the next time you are at a Chinese restaurant, maybe you can order lotus root soup instead of turtle soup.
Lastly, this Common Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciatus) is another cold-blooded creature you can often see basking under the sunlight along the boardwalk. As you can observe from this photo, they have a glossy, somewhat angular body with smaller legs. This feature, along with the fact that they have no pronounced neck, helps differentiate them from true lizards (Family: Lacertidae). They are also remarkably pretty under the morning sun with glints of auburn and bronze gleaming off their scales.
Like the “lizards” we find at home, or rather more accurately Geckos (Family: Gekkonidae), these skinks are known to practice Autotomy. Doesn’t sound familiar? Well, word comes from the Greek words “auto-“ meaning self- and “tome” meaning severing. I’m sure, all of you have seen, at one point or another, a clever gecko escaping leaving its wiggling tail behind to distract its predator. The Common Sun Skink is also known to exhibit this behavior but it doesn’t grow back perfectly. So, don’t go trying any experiments!
Well, as a familiar bunny goes, That’s all folks! I hope you have enjoyed reading about the interesting animals you can see along our trail. With the start of the Opening Walks, hopefully some of you guys will actually get to see some of these critters.
We are fullysubscribed for this season but do come and join us for our next upcoming season in January. We look forward to see you then!
The BES Drongos adventures on the Petai Trail and more!