Prof Chou Loke Ming officially retires today!

Humour, dignity and passion.

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…

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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.

Create a USB Yosemite installer in five steps

From: “How to burn OS X Yosemite to a usb flash drive,” by Whitson Gordon. Lifehacker Australia, 17 Oct 2014.

  1. Download the Yosemite installer [App Store]
  2. Plug in a >= 8GB (or larger) flash drive
  3. Format as an OS X Extended (Journaled disk) and name it “Yosemite”[use Disk Utility]
  4. Paste this command into Terminal window:
    sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ –volume /Volumes/Yosemite –applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ –nointeraction
  5. Enter your password as prompted

It may take 10 minutes or more.

HT @teutoburg

Vibrio in our waters, so avoid exposure of broken skin to seawater

Last night Channel News Asia reported the heightened presence of Vibrio sp. bacteria amongst our fish farms causing severe loss of stock in some Lim Chu Kang farms. I am not sure if this outbreak is confined to the western Johor Straits and AVA does not seem to have issued a press release as yet.

Ria Tan checked Lim Chu Kang beach the same night, where she saw dead fish washed ashore. She also checked Sungei Buloh and Pasir Ris but there was no dead fish there.

For now I do not know if Vibrio is in eastern Johor Straits which includes the waters off Changi. Nor the species.

Vibrio sp. causes gastrointestinal illness in people who eaten infected and undercooked seafood, and may cause wound infection of open cuts or broken skin exposed to seawater. E.g. see this CDC page.

Students with suspected broken cuts are likely to be denied a chance to seine next Friday, during the LSM1103 Biodiversity practical at Changi Beach. Since this may be difficult to determine, I might simply cancel the seine by students.

We’ll be cautious and I’ll read up more and monitor the news.

Meanwhile, Ria is compiling records, so do inform her if you see dead fish on our shores.

She says,

Dead Fish Alert!

Please help me monitor dead fishes washing up on the Johor Straits. Please let me know if you see large numbers (more than 10) especially of large dead fishes (more than 20cm long) washing up on the northern shores such as Pulau Ubin, Lim Chu Kang, Sungei Buloh, Kranji, Sembawang, Punggol, Pasir Ris, Changi. ”

Maybe not this October!

LSM2251 Ecological Observations in Singapore

In 2010, I asked students reading LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment to conduct non-interference observations of wildlife in Singapore. This was first carried out with LSM1303 Animal Behaviour and I ported the model over.

Students conduct their research independently but have two scheduled consultation sessions with TAs and the lecturer and are welcome to offline and face to face consultation.

After an eye-opening field trip to Pulau Ubin early in the semester, students presented research proposals through a three-minute elevator pitch. That usually results in lots of adjustments but by a fortnight later, field recces would have been conducted and they are in much better shape for data collection.

10 hours of observation are required, which could potentially result in 20 – 50 hours worth of observation in the field depending on project type and design. Not often, but possible.

Ecological Observations in Singapore

Results are formally presented at parallel sessions of symposia chaired by their TAs and includes a Q&A session by their peers (we provide guidelines). Students ask questions actively and are typically very politely phrased. They do get marks for asking questions!

Having students figure things out themselves with some help is preferred above directed field trips because this removes them from a prescribed culture with little room to think – especially with typical class sizes of 150-200. And importantly, leeway is given for mistakes during evaluation so there is space to learn.

These students are just beginning their exploration of wildlife in Singapore so it is heartening to listen to their scrutinising observations during the symposia.

After the symposium yesterday, I asked some students which they preferred – and the room unanimously indicated it was independent exploration.

Okay then.

The programme and abstracts are hosted at

Emails to Life Science undergraduates: field trips and research

Sent to AY2014/15 Sem 1 students reading LSM1103, LSM2251 & LSM3261.

Field assistants for honours students
Sign up at:

Our undergraduate research students are engaged in a variety of field observations following monkeys in the forest, studying freshwater streams, mapping the distribution of fruit trees important to civets, exploring trash in mangroves and a variety other work.

This is an important period in their lives when they grapple with field work very seriously, examine the literature, evaluate their methods and collect data with specific objectives. It is a steep learning curve and educational for undergraduates to be exposed to.

Hence Life Science undergraduates are encouraged to sign up as volunteer student assistants to gain exposure to field work, learn about nature areas in Singapore and observe how science is conducted in the field. You will learn a lot from conversations with research students whom you follow.

That’s pretty much how I started – I was a first year undergraduate when I responded to an invitation to carry heavy stuff for a mangrove research team.

After you register, research students will contact you with their field trip schedule. It is not a blanket period, you will be able to pick and choose dates.

Once you respond to individual researchers, you must commit to the appointments you sign up for, turn up early rain or shine and be communicative with the researcher. You reputation depends on this. You can also ask the research students for recommendations to secure your own projects in future.


Sivasothi a.k.a. Otterman

Invitation to a post-exam conversation with EVB Graduate students: Mon 08 Dec 2014: 7.00pm
Sign up here:

Dear undergraduates,

I am pleased to announce that three graduate students from the Environmental Biology (EVB) track are inviting you to an informal discussion about interests and concerns you might have about research in the Department of Biological Sciences. This is relation to the Honours year thesis (FYP), UROPS, lab attachments or techniques, experiences, constraints and philosophies.

Conversation with EVB grads about research in NUS DBS
Mon 08 Dec 2014: 7.00pm – 8.30pm
Sign up here:

Undergrads should think about and discuss these issues early in your journey. There are few formal opportunities to do this so these graduate students are extending an invitation for you to join them in just such a conversation.

While Darren Yeo (Evo Lab), Ian Chan (Marine Lab) & Jerome Kok (Freshwater Lab) are in the EVB track, this invitation is extended to all undergraduate biologists.


Sivasothi aka Otterman

NUS Cat Talk 2014 – “Cats in popular culture and our urban environment”

NUS Cat Cafe presents “Cats in popular culture and our urban environment”.

  • Rebecca Ho (Lingcat Feline Services), “Cat myths and creating the ideal environment for indoor cat”.
  • Samuel Isaac Chua (Cat Cafe Neko no Niwa), “Singapore’s cat cafe scene and the challenges of running one”.
  • N. Sivasothi (NUS Dept. Biological Sciences), “Cats: A wild carnivore on our streets”.

Tue 14 Oct 2014: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
@ University Town, Town Plaza, Level 2, Seminar Room 9
Registration is FREE but you must sign up at

20141014 Cat Talk 2014