Walking on the wild side of Singapore

November has been a good month for the biodiversity community in Singapore, with the successful conclusion of the Northern Expedition of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey of Singapore, and the launch of WildSingapore, a labour of love by Ria Tan, Geoffrey Davison and Benjamin Lee.

Earlier this month, Rachel Chan of the Straits Times put together a beautiful two page spread in Life! Weekend (2 Nov 2012) featuring Singapore’s wildlife on land, in the sea and in the air!  Singapore is more than an urban jungle. We have lots of wildlife calling Singapore ‘home’ too! To learn more about our wild citizens, visit the Digital Nature Archive of Singapore.


Wild things

Rachel Chan
2 November 2012
(c) 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Singapore is not just the concrete jungle that many think it is, not with the wildlife here

You may think that Singapore is a concrete jungle whose only wildlife are household pests, pesky crows and squawking mynahs.

But recent incidents such as sambar deer getting knocked down by cars, wild boars attacking humans and macaque monkeys intruding into flats show it is still a real jungle out there.

Plenty of folk here are taking a walk on the wild side and finding out what lies beneath the trees and sea.

Some of it is serious stuff. Two hundred scientists and volunteers are involved in an audit of marine life around Singapore’s northern islands and coasts in the Mega Marine Survey, conducted by the National Parks Board.

Blog updates (megamarinesurvey.blogspot.sg) show volunteers mingling with the likes of jellyfish, slugs, sea anemones and crabs.

Nature interest groups such as Nature Society (Singapore) and Wild Singapore are helping to document natural heritage in independent surveys. Nature Society Singapore, for example, initiated a horseshoe crab rescue and research programme five years ago to save crabs trapped in abandoned fishing nets at Mandai mudflats.

It has gone on to conduct research on the horseshoe crabs’ population density and breeding patterns and has published three papers in international journal Aquatic Biology.

“The data gatheredhas established that the Mandai mudflats at Kranji are a horseshoe crab habitat of international significance as it is the only place in the world where a permanently high population density of horseshoe crabs has been documented,” says the Nature Society’s outreach officer Chenny Li.

If trudging knee-deep in mud is not your thing, check out nature reserves, parks and Singapore’s offshore islands.

Nature Society vice-president Mr Leong Kwok Peng says this is a good time of the year to go bird watching, as thousands of migratory birds have flown here to avoid the northern hemisphere winter.

“You do not need to devote the whole day to watching them as they are most active from 7 to 10am. Or you can go spotting butterflies from about 10am to noon,” he advises.

Wild Singapore founder Ria Tan offers these tips: “You need keen eyesight and patience to spot wildlife. It’s easier if you know what you are looking for.”

Life!Weekend highlights five creatures each from land, air and water which not many people know existed in and around Singapore.



Black-backed Kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca)

One of the most colourful birds in the world, this has a glowing bluish-black back, a red crown and a yellow breast.

This native bird has been sighted in the Lower Peirce Reservoir area.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone atrocaudata)

This beautiful migratory bird with a purplish-blue gloss and white underside hails from Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan, and is listed as a near threatened species by BirdLife International, a global bird-watching authority.

It is rarely seen but was last spotted in the Bidadari area, which is near Potong Pasir, says Mr Alan Ow Yong, immediate past chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore)’s bird-watching group.

“It might have chosen to rest there because it is a quiet, green spot in an urban setting,” he says.

Greater Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis)

This is native to Singapore but is rarely spotted due to the degradation of its natural habitat, says avid bird photographer Lee Tiah Khee, who is with the Nature Society (Singapore) and who is also Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao’s chief photographer.

“I last saw a father and his chick in a marshy area with low grass in Jurong West, but that field has now been fenced up for redevelopment. I don’t know what has happened to that family of birds,” he says sadly.

Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus)

This large, native bird of prey has been spotted in the Japanese Garden at Jurong East and can be seen all year round, says Mr Ow Yong. It eats mynahs, pigeons and other small mammals.

It has a wingspan of about 42cm to 46cm and can be identified by the black bands on its tail and a conspicuous black centre stripe against a white throat, from chin to breast.

Banded Line Blue (Prosotas lutea sivoka)

This tiny butterfly with a wingspan of only 16mm to 20mm is tough to spot, but ButterflyCircle member Federick Ho did last month while exploring the forested area of Bukit Brown. It was the first time this butterfly has been spotted in Singapore. ButterflyCircle is an independent butterfly interest group in Singapore which was founded in 2004.

New species of butterflies can be sighted more than once a year, says ButterflyCircle founder Khew Sin Khoon. For those who are keen on butterfly photography, he advises: “To get a really good shot of a butterfly, you need to get up close; no more than 3m away. They don’t mind humans if they are engaged in some sort of activity, such as feeding on a flower.”


Smooth otter (Lutrogale perspicillata)

This critically endangered mammal has short, sleek fur and lives in pairs or family groups with its young. Active during both day and night, these creatures spend most of their time in water and eat fish, turtles, shrimp, clams and snails.

They are often sighted in Singapore’s mangroves, mudflats and coastal areas such as Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Pasir Ris and Pulau Ubin as well as Changi, says Wild Singapore founder Ria Tan.

Banded leaf monkey (Presbytis femoralis)

This elusive and critically endangered monkey is one of three primates native to Singapore, the other two being the long-tailed macaque and the Sunda slow loris. The adult is mostly covered in black fur, with a distinctive white band down its chest. Its young are white.

A paper published by a National University Of Singapore research team in 2010 says that there are about 40 of them living in the MacRitchie and Lower Peirce Reservoir areas.

Estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

This is the largest crocodile species and the largest living reptile in the world, says the Raffles Museum Of Biodiversity Research (go to rmbr.nus.edu.sg). They can grow up to 9m long but are usually smaller, and live in brackish and freshwater habitats. They eat turtles, birds and mammals and usually hunt at night. Nature Society (Singapore) vice-president Leong Kwok Peng says they are most frequently sighted in mangroves at Sungei Buloh. They have also been sighted in the Singapore and Kallang rivers, Sungei Seletar, Kranji Reservoir, Pasir Ris Park and Pulau Tekong.

Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina)

Do not be afraid of this beautiful, 2m-long green snake. It lives in trees and has often been spotted in forested areas of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Pulau Ubin and Loyang.

Wild Singapore’s Ms Tan says: “It is mildly venomous but is shy and will prefer to slide away into the undergrowth. If you want to take a closer look at it, avoid disturbing it. Its venom is too weak to affect humans, but sadly, it is often killed on sight by people who fear snakes.”

Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)

Once thought to be extinct in the wild in these parts, this species of large deer sadly made headlines recently for becoming roadkill.

Said to be extremely shy, the sambar is one of two species native to Singapore (the other is the barking deer), and was last sighted (and killed) in Old Upper Thomson Road in August. It has also been seen in Bukit Brown cemetery, near the MacRitchie Nature Reserve and Mandai Lake Road, near the Upper Seletar Reservoir.

“No study has been made on how many sambar deer are living in the wild. No one knows where they are from and you are not likely to see them easily,” says Mr Leong of Nature Society (Singapore).


Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus)

These endangered echinoderms used to be common on beaches here but but now you can find them only in undisturbed places such as Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin and Cyrene Reef, which is three submerged reef flats ringed by petrochemical plants on Jurong Island and Pulau Bukom, to the south of Singapore. Adult sea stars can grow up to 30cm in diameter and the shape, colour and number of knobs on them may vary, says Wild Singapore’s Ms Ria Tan.

These sea stars are not venomous and are often poached to beautify home aquariums. However, in captivity, they are unlikely to survive long without expert care, she adds.

Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins (Sousa chinensis)

Also called pink dolphins, these endangered cetaceans can be sighted in the waters of the Southern Islands.

“Like many other marine mammals, these dolphins are threatened by drowning in fishing lines and fishing nets. They are also affected by pollution and loss of feeding habitats due to reclamation and coastal development,” says Ms Tan.

Black-tipped reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus)

Yes, sharks can still be found in Singapore but beach babes will be relieved to know that they will not harm humans if left alone. Black-tipped reef sharks are often seen at Pulau Semakau as well as other southern reefs, said Ms Tan.

Sharks are threatened by over-fishing by recreational fishermen or by being trapped in nets or traps, she adds. She saw a dead 1.2m-long black-tipped reef shark on Pulau Semakau in May last year.

Mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda)

These crabs are not crustaceans like other crabs, but are closer in relation to arachnids such as spiders and scorpions. These non-venomous animals have been around even before dinosaurs. Studies by Nature Society (Singapore) have found that the Mandai mudflats at Kranji are the only place in the world where a permanently high population density of horseshoe crabs has been documented.

To view the horseshoe crabs, call the Nature Society (Singapore) on 6741-2036 to request a guided introduction to the mudflats.

Estuarine seahorse (Hippocampus kuda)

These fish – yes, they are fish – can be found all around Singapore, in seagrass beds in shallow freshwater.

While they have no natural predator, seahorses are often harvested for traditional Chinese medicine. They are listed as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and their international trade is monitored. They are considered globally vulnerable.


Singapore Press Holdings Limited

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