NUS PEACE Therapy Dog Programme – relief for stressed-out students!

I was glad to hear that the NUS PEACE Therapy Dogs Programme once again conducted another successful session of stress relief for exam-pressured students. This is possible because of the kind support of Therapy Dogs Singapore, an NPO made up of volunteer dog owners.

This programme is in its second year now and this was the third time the programme has been run, with the support of NUS’ Office of Student Affairs.


Ironically Mary Rose Posa and myself could not join the students as we highly stressed staff advisors were busy wrestling our semestral responsibilities which have plagued us since late July. There is light ahead in the tunnel though and time to sleep in mid-December!

The Therapy Dog Programme is one of a three special programmes run by NUS PEACE members, the other two being Cat Cafe and Paw Friends.

See: “Dogs melt away exam stress for NUS undergrads,” by Jalelah Abu Baker. The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2014.


Photos from NUS PEACE Therapy Dog Programme.

Erica Sena Neves on “Disease ecology & risk from small mammal-borne pathogens” (Wed 26 Nov 2014: 10am @ CF2)

Disease Ecology and Risk from Small Mammal-borne Pathogens in Singapore
Erica Sena Neves
Graduate Student,
Dept. of Biological Sciences, NUS

Wednesday 26 November 2014: 10.00am
Conference Room-II (S1, Level 3, mezzanine)
Supervisor: Asst Prof Bickford, David P


Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) pose a significant public health challenge globally, with severe economic, social, and health consequences. The frequency of epidemics caused by newly emerging and re-emerging pathogens and the likelihood of rapid global spread have increased dramatically in recent decades, with Southeast Asia considered a hot spot for future emergence events.

Small mammals play an important role in the maintenance and transmission of several pathogens, and they have been the source of pandemic outbreaks, causing periodic global and regional outbreaks of pathogens like hantaviruses and leptospirosis. Singapore is an ideal site to study the risk of EIDs exposure and infection from small mammals – it has lost nearly all of its original habitats and suffered a consequent loss of wildlife diversity, and this is worrying because biodiversity loss has been correlated with increased EIDs risk.

In this study, I propose using a combination of field surveillance, ecological analysis, laboratory diagnostics, evolutionary genomics, bioinformatics, and predictive modeling and mapping to identify pathogens present in Singapore small mammals.

Wild Otters – a new otter conservation NGO from Goa, India

Atul Borker writes from Goa, India to inform us that he has started an NGO called Wild Otters “with a vision of long term otter conservation work”.

Working in Goa (India), they are finding the remnant populations of small-clawed and smooth-coated otters in the wild, conducting field visits for the public, building community support and conducting school and public education.

Visit the webpage at How lovely for otters!

Wild Otters | About us

Wild Otters

Location of Goa, India.

Thanks to Nicole Duplaix, IUCN Otter Specialist Group, for forwarding the news.

Breakfast in the forest

Watching our native long-tailed macaques forage in the morning is pure bliss. Moving through the trees, the troop is heard before they gradually appear, balancing on branches whilst fingering each fruit and young shoot, all whilst in formation. Their quadruple gait is stretched to the limit to explore permutations in the vegetation around them in search of food.

2014 10 23 07 16 11

I am grateful that my student Joys Tan drags me out of campus, to assist her in observing their movement and behaviour. Breakfast in the forest for the monkeys begins at sunrise, which is a little earlier these days.

20141103 Sun  moon times today Singapore Singapore

Researchers have identified at least ten troops of long-tailed macaques in Bukit Timah and environs, ranging in size from a few individuals to over 30 in number. They frequent the edge of forests so are easily observed, and some troops are habituated to humans, and may pass by closely. When they are not fed by humans, they explore the forest with an intensity for their morning’s breakfast, revealing the wonder of their morphological adaptations.

Prof Chou Loke Ming officially retires today!


Humour, dignity and passion.

Originally posted on The Biodiversity Crew @ NUS:

20141031 CLMProf Chou Loke Ming officially retires today – the end of an era which his Reef Ecology Study Team and many students in the department will continue to reminisce about for decades.

I thought I’d share his commencement speech delivered to the graduating class on 10th July 2014. I loved his “coconut speech” delivered with his quintessential humour, dignity and an understated deep feeling.

Thanks for the memories Prof!

Prof Chou Loke Ming heads to TMSI next (See “Marine conservation veteran continuing passion after retirement,” by Audrey Tan. The Straits Time, 15 Oct 2014 [link])

“Member, NUS Board of Trustees, Mr Philip Tan,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

This is certainly a cheerful occasion for the graduates. It marks a significant achievement on your part and I congratulate you on reaching this stage in the journey of your life.

You have heard time and again the saying that…

View original 840 more words

A zoology practical exam tradition in LSM1103

As an undergrad, I experienced practical exams during all four years of undergraduate biology, even in biostatistics! It was part and parcel of of every module in botany and zoology which I read and it was an interesting experience which contributed to our development.

Practical exams probably began with the first biology class in NUS (post-war), as it is how biologists would think, but I can only attest to its practise in NUS from 1987.

Running practical exams faded with the phenomenal influx of life science students over a decade ago and staff then struggled to provide practicals, let along conduct practical exams. First year numbers eventually dropped to some 250-350 per semester when I returned to teach and it was right time to revive the tradition of practical exams. And I did so for LSM1103 and LSM3261 at least.

Importantly, the TAs, LO, FTTAs and the undergrads themselves were all enthusiastic about the experience.

It has been a hectic time with 18-hour days since August and time flies at this pace. Yesterday at the LSM1103 lecture, I realised (along with the students) that the practical exam was a mere two Saturdays away!

So FTTA Xu Weiting (civet girl) was activated over LINE and we sorted the admin out through GDrive by midnight. And this year I have included thirteen Kent Ridge plant species in the exam syllabus – finally!

By 2.00am, after some further tweaking, students were emailed necessary details. Online hiccup with an LT venue but I was feeling quite pleased. All this efficiency is thanks partly to SOPs written out over the past two years with former FTTA Amanda Tan, and the practise the three of us had of exhaustive and detailed evaluations. So it’s mostly all still in our heads.

2014 10 29 15 05 00

This afternoon after some module meeting, Weiting and I grabbed module LO Morgany T who was passing by to review the workflow and fault-find the procedure. This is how version 4, and while the op has become simpler, it is more efficient and secure.

We’re ready to brief TAs and check specimens. The honours year TAs would have experienced the op themselves three years ago and it will be fun for them as they help run the op – a coming of age!

We trim the amount of the time the first year undergraduates have to wait as best we can and soften post-exam waiting time with Attenborough videos. Importantly, though, we’ve kept them amongst their group mates from the module, with whom they have experienced the four LSM1103 practicals they are being examined over – nothing like some pressure for bonding!

It’s stressful of course, but I’m always glad that we make the effort when we watch students respond to the bell in the exam, just like I did in the late 80′s. Some traditions are worth maintaining.

Oriental small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea) housed inadequately at Underwater World Singapore, reports Wildlife Watcher (Singapore) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Md. Hafiz’zan Shah, 2014. Investigations report into the conditions and welfare of the animals kept captive in Dolphin Lagoon and Underwater World Singapore, Sentosa. Wildlife Watcher (Singapore), 30p [link] reports:

… Asian Small-clawed Otters are housed in sub-standard conditions, indicating an obvious lack of welfare and serves no educational and conservational purpose.

During the investigations on 23rd July 2014, we found a total of 3 otters housed in two separate enclosures, one enclosure housing 2 otters while the other housing only 1 otter.

This clearly violates the natural social grouping of Asian Small-clawed Otters where they can live in groups consisting of about 12 individuals, where they depend on each other for defence and grooming. It is well established that this otter is a sociable animal; it is not recommended or considered ever acceptable to keep a lone animal*.

It also contradicts the section ‘social behaviour’ stated on the signage that UWS has in front of the otters’ enclosure. The otters are only given small exhibition spaces with insufficient sheltered area and a small shallow pool with little water in each enclosure in which are barely reached the minimum standard*. The shallow pool disallows the natural behaviour of otters diving and swimming to hunt for their food as well as bonding through play with other otters in the family group. Both enclosures have no natural substrates such as grass, soil or pebbles but only cemented flooring can cause foot and tail sore*.

DolphinLagoonUWSSingapore.pdf (page 23 of 30)-2

*Heap, C. J., L. Wright & L. Andrews, 2008. Summary of Husbandry Guidelines for Asian Small-clawed Otters in Captivity. IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group, Otters in Captivity Task Force.

Wildlife Watcher (Singapore) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are requesting responses from Haw Par Corporation Limited, UWS and AVA. Read the document here.

See also these reports:

  1. “Dolphins at Underwater World in ‘satisfactory’ condition: AVA,’ by Today, 27 Oct 2014]
  2. “Underwater World Singapore criticised for ‘sub-standard’ animal living conditions,” by Laura Elizabeth Philomin. Today, 27 Oct 2014.
  3. “Pink dolphin at Underwater World Singapore has non-contagious skin cancer,” by Audrey Tan. The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

Photos by Wildlife Watcher (Singapore) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.