A 143km bicycle ride on a Brompton – my 10th NTU Bike Rally around Singapore island

It was a memorable 143km on the 10th anniversary NTU Bike Rally on the 9th of March this year, and not just because NTU Sports Club outdid themselves with the best run bike rally of the series ever!

I had not intended heroics but the night before, I detected a slight wobbling of the rear tyre against the brakes. Iy was near midnight as I prodded and poked and a loose spoke was revealed! Argh!

I had just completed 11 hours of receipt submission through the NUS TRAC system, and was exhausted. So the easy option was to use the Brompton instead. There was this famous girl who rode her CarryMe on a previous Bike Rally and it emboldened me to try.

143km on my Brompton, hooray!
NTU Bike Rally

The new 140+km route introduced the Nanyang Drive slope in NTU which slaughtered cyclists early in the morning! I was careful to protect my busted knee whilst I clambered up every hill, pedal by pedal. And boy oh boy, did I miss my mountain bike’s lovely granny gears! Nanyang Drive was followed by slopes in Lim Chu Kang, Mandai Ave, Punggol Road and Loyang hill.

Somehow I stayed on my saddle throughout, and only along Punggol Road did I think about protecting my knee by getting off and walking. But I persevered and after the pain, was happy. I had not needed to compromise the ride.

Before the pain, at the first stop at West Coast Road!
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Cramps hit me after just 35km! And lasted until the 105km mark – half my ride was a battle! My preparatory rides earlier this year, and continual isotonic fluid and water uptake were not enough to keep the cramps at bay. Maybe it is time to try compression apparel!

Along Mandai Road, I stopped to observe a monkey in a tree (seriously) and my thighs locked up – I nearly crawled into the bush along the road and my grimacing must have frightened off the monkey.

Well somehow all this passed, as it always does and the Pasir Ris Drive 3 slope leading to Loyang hill was not tortuous, but a steady climb – oh good, my ‘second wind’ had finally kicked in! Changi was an enjoyable fireride and I nay had to slow through ECP to be safe to other slower park users. It was an enjoyable finish through Nicoll Highway into the F1 Pit, despite the growing intensity of traffic as the sun began to set.

We three ride again!
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My Zendogs kakis Kenneth Pinto and Kevin Lim have cycled with me for several years now and welcomed me as I limped in to each pit stop set up along that 140km route. We were happy to discover some new variations of the route this year, the well stocked rest points and the cheerful volunteer road marshals who seemed unaffected by the heat!

Ladybug was a lifesaver, bringing us food at Woodlands Waterfront. The nasi padang lunch was critical, and was supplemented with fruits and isotonic drinks at Punggol and Pasir Ris Park! I had booked her for support duty three months ago and she set a new standard!

Three times I was offered my now-repaired mountain bike but I decided to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NTU Bike Rally in that special way – by torturing myself! And no short cuts, we lapped up every kilometre.

Bravo to NTU Sport Club for offering this opportunity to challenge ourselves once again and tour the periphery of Singapore. It was a wonderful ride, the best organised ever and until next year, thanks once again!

A nice new interesting detour, avoiding the madness of the Vivocity junction
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We stream in after a hefty climb along Nanyang Avenue, in NTU.
Rest points were well stocked throughout the ride.
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Meeting kakis along the way, some of these meets are annual affairs!
Otterman, Kevin, Kenneth with Choo Kok Fah
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Andreas Dewanto and I take a photo at West Coast
for our MW5202 students Facebook page
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Daryl Chan, who rode 170km for Hair for Hope last year on his Brompton,
along Lim Chu Kang Road
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Shawn Chung says hello along Neo Tiew Road and
passes me sodium/potassium tablets!
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Support crew Ladybug had a boot full of makan, drinks on ice and fruits!
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The round island ride accomplished once again!
This annual event gets me back on my bicycle at the start of the year
after a tough semester; thanks NTU Sports Club!
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NTU Sports Club has done this for 10 years,
and this ride was the best prepared they have ever been.
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Public Seminar on Freshwater Crab Conservation, Forest Lodge, Singapore Zoo: Sat 29th March 2014

WRSCF invites you to a public seminar on our most endangered resident of Singapore, the Singapore Fresh Water Crab (Johora singaporensis).

During this event we would also like to share with you the outcomes of the first Freshwater Crab Conservation Roundtable held on 27 & 28 March 2014.
Through an open panel discussion you will have the opportunity to interact with specialists and learn more about how we all can help conserve these fragile members of Singapore’s amazing biodiversity.

See the draft program below and please RSVP to Roopali Raghavan (see poster).

Look forward to seeing you there.

Roopali Raghavan
Conservation, Research and Professional Training
Wildlife Reserves Singapore
80 Mandai Lake Road
Singapore 729826

The Freshwater Crab Conservation Roundtable and the urgent need for forest recovery

I am spending two days at the River Safari absorbing discussions at The Freshwater Crab Conservation Roundtable. It is fascinating and a relief to see this group assembled to further address the issue of native and endemic freshwater crab conservation in Singapore.

Residing in our rare and highly endangered hill streams, Johora singaporensis is on a precipice, despite our efforts these past few years. So it is time to rope in the help and a motivated bunch now has technical support from a variety of experts, some of whom we first talked about seven years ago!

FW Crab roundtable-Zoo-27March2014

In 2007, Daniel Ng was an honours student determined to work on a conservation issue. He rejected initial applied ideas Peter Ng and myself suggested. We grappled with suitable topics and the idea of the freshwater crab Johora singaporensis emerged.

We thought it almost academic and a little risky due to low population numbers, still we started Daniel out on a Bukit Gombak stream which ran through Ivan Polunin’s house (Polunin’s stream) and Daniel eventually acquired an expertise over many nights there.

Go sample the streams at Bukit Timah now, we told him, just for the sake of a comparison. It is necessary and we expected it to be routine. Daniel came back with some bad news, typically with just few words, “there are no [Johora singaporensis] crabs there”. We thought he must be mistaken and sampling too gently. So we huge and puffed up Bukit Timah hill with some experienced marine carcinologists, JC Mendoza and Tohru Naruse,but hey drew a blank too.

The realization sunk in that the changes to Bukit Timah we had been concerned about greatly over the years had begun to express itself through the disappearance of its sensitive fauna. The Singapore freshwater crab was just one of many signs.

Quietly over the years, NParks and NUS have advised and worked with MINDEF, PUB, SLA and other agencies to advise about land use in various forests which harbour the crab, protecting the stream ecosystem in which it resides. We have all kept an eye on the sites, alerting NParks over signs and activity, natural and man made which may affect the area. Student projects on other endemic species such as have informed management about status and priorities.

The efforts have become more structured. Darren Yeo, who did his 3rd year Zoology congress (pre-UROPS) project with crustacean study under Peter Ng had returned from his post-doc to set up a well populated invasive species biology and freshwater ecology lab and has now taken lead with these efforts and has initiated a few more student projects. Daniel completed his PhD and returned to conservation research of the crab once again, and is now in Darren’s lab. NParks conjured up the funding to further this. Cai Yixiong in NParks has managed and initiated freshwater stream surveys in our forests, recruited students on stream ecology projects and liaised with various agencies to preempt surprises on the landscape.

We have found a few more sites in addition to the precious few but accelerating changes in forest structure and hydrology have raised the question of captive breeding as an additional strategy in conservation. And Wildlife Reserves Singapore has stepped forward, not just with supplemental funding but a desire for hands on contributions.

And all those people, directly and indirectly relevant to the issue, were assembled in the room yesterday. It included IUCN/SSC specialists experienced in facilitating complex conservation issues who were on hand to help synthesise the diverse input and challenges into an action plan.

When I left for my evening class back at NUS as a vision for this effort was being edited. A humble but lofty goal of endemic crabs flourishing means a healthy ecosystem. Amidst the discussion, Sonja Luz of Wildlife Reserves Singapore reflected on the fact that this was the first species conservation plan for any species in Singapore. Indeed!

The land use, biological, hydrological, law and climate change issues have meant no single one of us in the room could have solved the problem. No less than this Roundtable has been needed all this while. At the biological information is ready to be tapped by all the rest.

I’ve been a cheerleader in this effort for eight yeas now, ever since Daniel’s honours year thesis. It has given me a front row seat to the effort, and the chance to twist and turn through our forests mapping out stream locations on recce’d and observing freshwater crabs in the dark of the night through the glow of headlamps. Watching them in quiet nights bring me back to my first night visit to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve with D H Murphy and the Biological Sciences Society in 1987. Each glimpse is still a fascinating, precious moment.

The forest has changed since my undergraduate years in the late 80’s. You need a permit to step foot in any protected forest patch at night. I stopped night forest walks in the 90s in support of NParks’ biphasic impact-reduction plan – leave the forest free of human presence at night.

But the inadequacy of our forest size, the high proportion of edges, regularly-fogged condominium developments abutting the reserve, pressure of increasing recreational demand, lack of attendant changes in human behaviour, poaching and illegal use incidents, expression of historical impact and our unique problems of forest biology demand new approaches to ensure our unique forest heritage can be passed down to future Singaporeans, as part of our identity.

Well, perhaps not so new. I have heard since a student and more than once, from the likes of Richard Corlett, Subaraj Rajathurai and Peter Ng, somewhat wistfully, about the closing of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to human traffic – in order to provide relief, restoration and remediation. Is this unreasonable?

These past couple of decades I have lived through upgrading of HDB flats, reconstruction and refurbishment of retail buildings and renovation and regularisation of most NUS blocks. The phenomenally iincreasing Singapore population demands this.

Our forests, ever under siege, face an increasing and diverse pressure. They are irreplaceable and deserve the kind of attention we have unleashed on our urban environment. We have to fix this now.

Polunin Stream  N Sivasothi

Read about the conservation strategy for the Singapore freshwater crab here

Conspiring with Geographers

I found this old image from when I met up with Dan Friess (NUS Geography) to plan a symposium of mangrove reseearchers from Mandai’s mangrove and mudflat, past and present, formal and informal, prolonged and episodic. The workshop on 31st August 2013 followed up on the paper of 2012 and helped all of us further appreciate the significance of the site.

The series of 5-minute presentations were rapid fire and demanding on presenters, but it allowed the audience a grasp of a diversity of topics. Often it left the audience wanting more and on occasion, when painfully technical, it was over quickly!

In addition to further contribution to ongoing conservation effort, it turned into a recruitment session in response to many young faces in the crowd, some of whom have since taken an active role towards protection, research and education.

See http://mandaimangrovemudflat.wordpress.com

Organising the Hip Science Symposium

I finished my Thursday night MW5202 Science Communication class with a ‘how to organise a symposium’ methods tutorial which explores proximal and ultimate causes.

And then it was time for the 14 to organise a symposium! In the process, they are using IT tools to facilitate collaboration and communicating as they.

Last year, we cooked up “Bucket Science Symposium”. This group is pondering “The Hip Science Symposium”.

The idea for shifting the venue to the Science Centre Singapore was made to inspire the students at a new location and a cosy venue known for science discovery.

Family and friends come along for support and invitations go out to Science Centre members.

See last year’s webpage: http://bucketscience2013.wordpress.com

Principles and techniques of Station Guiding in background
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Japanese Otterman observes giant river otters at River Safari

Hiroshi Sasaki, who has studied Asian otters since the 90’s, dropped by Singapore to observe the giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) at the River Safari.

We watched the pair swim for an hour until they retired to their dens. The otters can be observed from above, along the side of the tank and from the middle. It was fascinating and soothing.

Then I rushed off to my meeting.

Hiroshi and I caught up early morning in the taxi ride from Mackenzie Road, chatting about research, friends and students dating back to the 90’s. He asked me about Pat Foster-Turley’s spraint item identification, and realised she had discussed crab prey items with someone, but who?

I revealed that was Peter Ng, our crabman, and that Foster-Turley had stopped by to chat with Peter in 1990. She left behind some spraint items in a box which looked to be fiddler crab remains from small-clawed otter remains from Perak.

Peter tossed that box at me in a conversation after my honours year, and suggested I study a wild mammal. That’s how it started.

When we got out the cab, who else did we bump into but Peter!

And we enjoyed a brief reminiscent moment next to the Changi tree sculptures at the zoo entrance today.

Honours poster! 2011-2014

Civetgirl Fung Tze Kwan, who has a great sense of occasion, posted this compilation to Facebook, of my honours students with their posters on the day of their oral exams, from her honours year, 2011 to the present.

It’s a long transforming journey to this fateful day. When the photo is taken, the students would have survived the scrutiny of their examiners and are mostly elated!

I’m usually missing, busy torturing the examinees I would have been allocated. This would be three or four other classmates of theirs.

The seniors are a critical part of their preparation and come by to support, view the other students posters and take this important photo!

Otterman Holt selfie and avocado ice-cream!

Almost all of my current crew were together this afternoon, a cause for celebration as we are scattered in several locations, and always on field trips, lectures, meetings and practicals everyday.

Honours light sabers and freshly 30 photos

We came close today but were missing two of my students during a presentation review of the Evening of Biodiversity for the seniors. The small mammal ladies (Amanda Tan & Chloe Tan), civetgirls (Xu Weiting & Fung Tze Kwan), Meryl Theng (Ottergirl) and Marcus Chua (Catboy) will be making short presentations, and we need to prep for coherence.

In the middle of it all, three tubs of ice-cream appeared for Marcus’ 30th birthday including a magical tub of Avocado ice-cream! That was certainly a step up from Avocado milkshake and I eyed it seriously but birthday boy had dibs.

Marcus Chua 30 years young

Soon, very soon, I shall be reunited with my tub!

The honours students, Germaine (mangrove horseshoe crab) Leng and Iris (slender squirrel) Ng also celebrated completing their rite of passage that morning in MPSH at their honours poster exam. It has been a hectic time up this morning and the pain of preparation was alleviated by the joy of discovery!

I was unable to join the honours students at MPSH due to my animal behaviour lecture that morning. Instead, my three examinees trooped in this afternoon, one by one, to the office pantry for their session with me. It was an enjoyable exchange and I learnt a few more things about our birds and marine environment.

Joys (monkeygirl1) Tan was here just hours after harassing me questions on email the night before about sampling methods. The other monkeygirl, Lai Chui Ting, was missing from the fray, as was Liyana (fishtail palm) Omar. Liyana and I would have a fruitful fishtail palm discussion that evening about some 3,000 fishtail palms on Pulau Ubin.

Just two hours sleep, but a fruitful day. There are deadlines galore (seven ominous missed calls on my NUS phone) and this sure was lovely relief!

Eventually we will get a photo of all of us together. For now, we were surprised at the iPhone 5’s ability to keep us all in. Keeping all of us together though, is something else entirely!

Thanks FTK for Marcus’ big 3-0 photo!