Tag Archives: urban wildlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)

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)

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

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

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

words by: Lee Juin Bin

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Hey let’s take a picture with thi…MY BAG!

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?

Opening walk!
Opening walk: All those happy faces after a hard walk!

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.

Long-tailed Macaque
Long-tailed Macaque

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).

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Back away…slowly

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).

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You and what army?! (Cue entire troop of monkey hiding in the trees)

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?

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Domestic (startled cat) vs Wild (beautiful baby starling)

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!

For more cool photos, check our Flickr page!

Words by: Melissa Wong