Tag Archives: singapore animals

Monkeying Around: Misconceptions about Macaques and how we can make it better

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!

monkeyhome.jpg

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.

Clarifying misperceptions

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

Resolving conflict

  1. Be prepared

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
  1. 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:

  • Food
  • Other food-associated items
    • Bottles
    • 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.

In summary

  1. Macaques are simply exhibiting their natural behaviour
  2. It is within our power to help resolve the human-macaque conflict
  3. Make loud noises, threatening gestures, or stomp to prevent the macaque from approaching you and/or grabbing your things
  4. 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 🙂

Words by: Tan Jia Xiu

50 creatures in CCNR for SG50!

50 amazing wildlife found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Spot the odd one out! All adorable pixel animals by our resident artist Jacqueline Chua.
50 amazing wildlife found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Spot the odd one out! All adorable pixel animals by our resident artist Jacqueline Chua; Collage design by Adeline Koh.

The BES Drongos are back! We are here to celebrate Singapore’s big fifty with the natural heritage of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) – you can find all 50 amazing wildlife (as pictured above) in our nation’s largest nature reserve! (See, Singapore got wildlife what.)

CCNR is known as the green lung of Singapore, occupying up to 2800 hectares of lush greenery – housing a magnificent diversity of flora and fauna right at the heart of the city-state. A mixture of young and mature secondary forests, as well as retaining a small patch of virgin primary forest near MacRitchie Reservoir, CCNR is home to fascinating creatures such as the Crimson Sunbird, the slow loris, the Sunda pangolin and even the critically endangered Raffles’ banded langur.

Can you imagine a better way to celebrate national day than spending it in CCNR, walking through the verdant forests and observing dazzling flora and fauna? I can’t.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next 50 days as we bring you more interesting facts and figures on each of the fifty species – right on our Facebook page!

Also, stay tuned for more updates on the next guiding season – we are currently gearing up for public walks soon, with new stations and more entertaining stories from our guides!

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).

javan myna nicholas Lim
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)

yellow-vented bulbul_ERC_nicholas Lim
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)

Pink-necked green pigeon_Nicholas Lim
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)

Lesser dog faced fruit bat_Sean Yap
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)

004 Fishtail Palm leaves
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

Pangolin Party

To celebrate World Pangolin Day, the BES Drongos are proud to present a special post on pangolins! (so many P words in one sentence.) So first things first: What the heck is a pangolin?

Copyrighted to Wild Singapore

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are probably the weirdest and least understood mammals in our tropical forests today. There are a total of eight species of pangolin that can be found from Africa to Asia, and one species, the Sunda pangolin, can be found in Singapore’s forests, including MacRitchie! Unfortunately, these creatures are nocturnal and are very shy, so the likelihood of seeing one as you walk along the trails is very low. In an odd twist of fate though, pangolins have been known to wander into the residence halls of NTU, much to the confusion of resident students.

Copyrighted to Singapore Post

Looking at this creature, a lot of people think that it is a reptile instead of a mammal. And such sentiments are pretty understandable, seeing as this is the only scaly mammal in the world.The pangolin is covered in rather distinctive overlapping scales, making it look like an artichoke on legs. The scales themselves are made of a material called keratin, which makes up a whole bunch of tough things like our fingernails and rhino horns. These scales have to be tough, as the pangolin uses them to protect itself against predators… by curling into a ball.

pangolin day
Copyright Jac Chua 2015

This is actually a surprisingly effective strategy on the pangolin’s part; it turns out that its scales are so hard, that it can even survive an attack by a hungry lion. In fact, this is such an iconic strategy employed by all pangolins that its name was was derived from the Malayan phrase “Pen Gulling”, which means “Rolling Ball” [1]. Does this sound familiar? Well, it turns out that the pangolin is closely related to the armadillo, who also famously rolls up into a ball to escape danger.

So, if the pangolin rolls up to protect itself, what are those impressive claws on its forelimbs for?

For digging! The pangolin is a great lover of eating ants and termites, and in order to get to its lunch, it has to dig them out. Coupled with its long and sticky tongue, the ants rarely ever stand a chance against the eating machine that the pangolin is. Surprisingly, the pangolin has no teeth, so in order to grind up its dinner it swallows stones to crush its prey within its stomach[2].

Unfortunately for the pangolin, having such large, clumsy claws makes it very hard for it to walk, and as a result pangolins tend to be very slow moving. However, a few species of pangolin, like the Sunda pangolin, have evolved to make the most of it by learning how to climb trees!

Copyrighted to Ecology Asia

Tree-dwelling, or arboreal pnagolins have also evolved to have a prehensile tail, which means that its tail is strong enough to wrap around branches like a fifth limb. This long and muscular tail is also a useful spot for baby pangolins to piggyback on. Baby pangolins, incidentally, are also known as pangopups. Try saying Pangopup Piggybacks on a Pangolin very fast. What a tongue twister!

Copyrighted to Firdia Lisnawati 2014

Unfortunately, it turns out that this wonderful creature is one of the most illegally trafficked in the world. It is a common belief across most of China and Southeast Asia that pangolin meat and scales have medicinal properties for a whole range of ailments from asthma to acne, and as a result they sell for ridiculously high prices on the blackmarket. Even though all pangolin species are protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), which means they cannot be legally traded, entire stretches of Southeast Asian forests have been emptied of this animal, and as a result poachers have turned to Africa to satisfy the demand for pangolin meat and scales here in Asia. In an ironic twist, because pangolin products are becoming so valuable, it has eating pangolins have become akin to a status symbol in certain parts of Asia, driving the demand even higher[3]. Warning; do not click this link if you don’t think you can stomach the sight of pangolin fetus soup.

Copyrighted to National Geographic

So what can we do? Well, for starters, we can all raise awareness about this curious, fantastic animal through social media, and never support the consumption of pangolin products, be they in the form of medicine or food. If you are on holiday and you see pangolins for sale, you can also use the Tangaroa Illegal Wildlife trade reporting app to notify the authorities.

Well, we hope that you have enjoyed this post about pangolins as much as we enjoyed writing it! If you are interested in finding out more about pangolins, please visit our friends over at The Pangolin Story to find out about local pangolin conservation efforts, and check out Save Pangolins for even more resources. Together, we all can save the precious pangolin from peril too!

References:

  1. Chakkaravarthy Q. A. (2012) Research and Conservation Needs of the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata). Proceedings of the Third Seminar on Small Mammal Conservation Issues 2012: 50-55
  2. Forestry administration of Cambodia and Conservation International-Cambodia (2008) Pangolin conservation stakeholders workshop. 8–10.
  3. Chin S.Y and Pantel S. (2008) Pangolin Capture and Trade in Malaysia. Proceedings of the Workshop on Trade and Conservation of Pangolins Native to South and Southeast Asia: 143-160

Words by: Jacqueline Chua

Our First Trail Season: Highlights

A few months ago, the BES Drongos was merely an idea to bring the public around a nature reserve in Singapore to emphasise the importance of nature and let them experience natural spaces for themselves. Now, we are a volunteer group of 25 Bachelor of Environmental Studies students who are proud to call ourselves the BES Drongos nature trail guides. We spent months organising ourselves through recee trails and concluded our first ever trail season last month after taking eight groups of trail participants onto the Petai Trail!

Committee Group Photo
The BES Drongos committee AY2014/2015!

As a guiding group, we are still young and have much to learn about how the public interacts with nature – what’s interesting to us as nature lovers and scientists-in-training may not engage families, young children or people who are there to take selfies photographs.

 “When you get caught up in the things that went wrong, always think about how we started with nothing.”
– Jacqueline, our research officer

This trail season, we took seven groups of trail participants onto the Petai Trail at MacRitchie Reservoir Park/Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Mother Nature doesn’t take cues for scheduling according to our walks. Our first ever opening walk day on 4 October was rained out, despite a full turnout from the participants who had signed up. Nevertheless, we were lucky to have been able to allow all walks after that to continue as expected!

4 Oct – it rained 😦

11 Oct

12 Oct

18 Oct 

Image credit: © NUS OSA 2014 | Photography by Clement Hong

25 Oct

Image credit: © NUS OSA 2014 | Photography by Clement Hong

1 Nov 

9 Nov 

15 Nov 

We were glad to have interested participants come on our trails who enjoyed exploring and finding out about nature as much as we do! Some of our participants came from abroad, and they brought with them interesting stories about other nature walks back in their home country and the kinds of animals they have seen.

PGP Walk

Each of the walks was an exchange of knowledge and wonderment, as we continued to learn about the wildlife in our nature reserve and broaden our perspectives about what it means to live in a city that claims to be fully urbanised, but has pockets of nature worth preserving.

For instance, we experienced some kind of (nerdy) joy when we managed to overturn common misconceptions about forests: tropical rainforest soils are actually nutrient poor because of heavy rainfall leaching away the nutrients. Therefore, plants like the leaf litter plant (Agrostistachys indica) to flourish because of their clever way of trapping leaf litter and absorbing nutrients from this decomposing matter through its rootlets.

Leaf Litter Plant

We also spotted lots of variable animals in the nature reserve! We have talked about the Greater racket-tailed drongo, the long-tailed macaque, the Asian softshell turtle and common sun skink in this earlier post.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The greater racket-tailed drongo, our nameksake!

While on our recce walk with the Toddycats, we spotted an ornate coraltail dragonfly and two venomous snakes! The Blue Malayan Coral snake and the Wagler’s pit viper (which we also later saw once more on the trail with public participants) were rare finds that we got really excited about and blogged here.

Wagler's Pit Viper
Wagler’s pit viper… look at those ominous eyes

We also encountered on our public walks some new animals that we hadn’t seen before, such as this pin-striped tit babbler:

Pin-striped tit babbler peeking out at us!

Pin-striped tit babbler. Photo credit: Tanvi of Saving Macritchie

On this same walk, we encountered some crimson sunbirds, the unofficial national bird of Singapore!  Tanvi, the young creator behind the blog Saving MacRitchie, was a participant on this same walk and these photos were taken by her.

And, we’ve captured some footage of a pair of greater racket-tailed drongos along the Petai trail, how awesome is this? Note the tail flicks!

We hope that we’ve touched the lives of the people who have come on the trail with our stories of the animals and plants that are found along the Petai Trail in the secondary forest of MacRitchie. Our guides have learned a lot about environmental education, whether it is storytelling to engage an audience or public speaking practice. We are infinitely glad to have the support of our BES office in NUS, our readers of this blog and followers on our Facebook page and everyone who has helped to support us in one way or another.

Let us know if you came on the trail and have something to share about your experience! Mail us at besdrongos@gmail.com or drop us a comment on our Facebook page!

The BES Drongos will be resuming guided Petai trail walks in 2015, so until then, we wish you happy holidays and a happy new year!

Words by: Judy Goh