Sat 11 Jul 2020: 11.00am – Annabel Pianzin on “Habitat Choices of Wild Otters in an Oil Palm Dominated Forests in Sabah”

Little is know about the distribution and habitat choice of of wild otters in Sabah, especially in altered forests and oil palm plantations. This information would facilitate wildlife managers in advising managers and owners of plantations about the value of preserving strips of riparian buffers within streams in this landscape.

Such refugia will be critical for buffering the impact of altered landscapes on wild otters and other animals of aquatic ecosystems. So Annabel Pianzin, a Master’s student from the Universiti Malaysia Sabah set out to figure out exactly that!

In the second talk of the series, the Otter Working Group Singapore & IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group are extremely delighted to host Annabel in this Zoom session chaired by N. Sivasothi aka Otterman from NUS.

Annabel will discuss how wild Asian short-clawed otters and smooth-coated otters utilise crucial bankside vegetation along in a palm plantation dominated landscape in the region of the Kalabakan Forest Reserve in Sabah.

See you on Sat 11 July 2020 @ 11.00am! Registration is free, at!

Annabel pianzin

It’s Recess Week at NUS and I think of this dusky leaf money in Penang

It’s Recess Week at NUS and we have been issued a cease and desist order over academic activity for students so they can catchup. Which means it’s a time for academics to engage in a frenzy of catchup activity. this with great longing I think of this dusky leaf monkey (also spectacled leaf monkey, ‘lotong mata puteh’; Trachypithecus obscurus) whom I enjoyed observing spend a lazy afternoon on a tree branch at Penang National Park (Taman Negara Pulau Pinang).

This area was my haunt in the early 90’s when it was Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve. During my brief visit, I was relieved to see the area quite unchanged. All thanks to efforts over decades by naturalists (especially Malaysian Nature Society) which led to the area declared a national park in 2003.

The Dusky leaf monkey is also easily seen at Penang Botanical Gardens.

20150110 dlm sleeping

The scenery and sounds on the KTM train, from Woodlands Checkpoint to Ghim Moh

My last journey on the KTM train was in the last week of its operations after visiting Taman Negara by way of Jerantut. I had left after some intense work setting up International Coastal Cleanup Singapore immediately after exam marks were submitted in May and had simply grabbed my stuff and left.

Taking the train was the usual way and on my way back, it dawned on me that this was one of the last few rides into Tanjong Pagar Station. So I stayed at the doorway of a carriage and filmed the ride back from Woodlands Checkpoint to Ghim Moh until I ran out of camera battery!

Happily another camera (you can see a hand holding a camera stick out the window at times) has the complete journey albeit from a tighter view. I’d upload that to Vimeo in due time for another post.

The phrase “activity started” you hear at the beginning is the Runkeeper app on the iPhone which returned this route:

KTM to Singapore - 24.46 km | RunKeeper

Breaking the link – cutting and removing the KTM railway line

A symbolic scene greeted me on my field trip yesterday morning. The Malaysian (Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM) railway I crossed each time I ventured into Mandai mangroves since 1987 has been cut. The fastening clips have been removed and collected in canvas bags along the railway.

All this steel will be returned to Malaysia.

Railway line cut, 21 Jul 2011-1.jpg
Preparation for removal of the KTM rail, near Mandai Besar

Bags of removed Pandrol e-clips along the Mandai KTM railway, 21 Jul 2011.jpg
Canvas bags of harvested Pandrol e-clips peppered the railway track


A railway track consists of rails, sleepers, fasteners, ballast on a foundation:

  1. Two parallel steel flat-bottomed rails are anchored perpendicularly along regular intervals (gauge) to
  2. wood or concrete sleepers (Americans call them railroad ties) with a
  3. rail fasteners such the Pandrol e-clip and all laid on a
  4. trackbed made up of gravel track ballast placed on
  5. a foundation of compressed earth.

The KTM railway track is peppered with distance markers, lights and junctions. The markers along the northernmost stretch are old friends which we used to map back to when I was a field assistant to D H Murphy, mapping the mangroves. I made sure the map got into the mangrove guidebook:

Mandai Mangrove-1.jpg
Map of Mandai mangroves in the Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore
guidebook with the railway line mapped in.
760.25km KTM distance marker, Mandai.jpg
The 760.25km from Butterworth distance marker taken down
– no trains run here anymore.
KTM railway line removal, 21 Jul 2011.jpg
Removal in process closer to Mandai Kechil

I used to take the train to Malaysia frequently in the 70’s to visit relatives; then I started going in the 80’s on my own and in the 90’s to do otter work or meet conservationists and scientists there. My last journey on the train was in the last week of its operations when I visited Taman Negara by way of Jerantut. I filmed the journey back from Woodlands Checkpoint to Ghim Moh and will upload that clip later.

Taking the train from the sterile Woodlands Checkpoint in future will be an anti-climax for sure!

Still, my greatest interaction with the railway line has been in crossing back and forth for mangrove work since 1987 until today. I liked that experience so much that in 1997, I made pains to take a photo (with precious slide film) of Kate Thome debriefing volunteers at the first ever mangrove cleanup I had organised at Mandai Kechil – and I waited to take that photo when the train trundled past. Two years later in 1999, that photo went into the mangrove guidebook!

We also caught the passing train as we walked into the mangrove in Nature at Our Doorstep, a local nature magazine show on 3rd July 2003. We were a little luck with the timing and was happy we were alert about catching it.

Well, you get the picture – I celebrated the quirky situation of the train and Malaysian land running through Singapore every chance I could!

Sungei Mandai Kechil railway-1.jpg
Kate Thome debriefing the first mangrove cleanup for the International
Coastal Cleanup Singapore, September 1997 as the train passes by.

Scene from Nature at Our Doorstep:
Crossing the railway track to reach Mandai mangrove, 03 Jul 2003.
Yusfiandi Yatiman or Yandi, who was hosting the show, is behind me.

Mandai -NAOD[edited] (Converted).mov-1.jpg
Scene from Nature at Our Doorstep:
Entering the mangrove with the KTM train passing behind me, 03 Jul 2003.

At the Sungei Mandai Besar railway bridge with Yandi
and the NAOD crew, 03 Jul 2003.

RGS students waking the railway track as we head
to Mandai mangroves, 07 Aug 2004.

The only LSM4261 Marine Biology class small enough
for me to take to Mandai mangrove (13 Feb 2008).

Jessica Ker, then a final year undergraduate research student,
like many others before her, crosses the railway
to head to Mandai mangrove, 15 Jan 2011.

I suppose by next week the line will be gone. I hope the area will not change too much – there appears to be cause for some hope (see URA’s Rail Corridor website) and you can follow all the developments, news and blog posts at the excellent Green Corridor website.

When I talk about the train tracks in future, assuming the mangrove remains, I will share Jerome Lim’s voluminous documentation of the railway in the days leading to its departure at Journeys through Tanjong Pagar.

Selamat jalan KTM railway!

KTM rail pair behind Mandai Besar mangrove, 28 May 2009.

What mountain and river was that?

This morning I went for a recce and once again, borrowed Ladybug’s iPhone 3GS and activated Runkeeper. When the trip was over, I screen-grabbed the relevant part of the image and annotated it with Skitch. The plot of the walk is indicated as a red line on an underlying Google Map.

I usually make a note of the direction of prominent landmarks to register details of the landscape in my mind, and there are unknown points, they can be identified later with the use of a paper map or by zooming out from the Runkeeper layer above Google Maps.

So the river we were looking up into and the mountain towering above us during the recce in the north-west were Sungei Skudai and Gunung Pulai in Johor, Malaysia.

There is no need to wonder that long with an iPhone handy, really, since calling up Google Maps will reveal your current location and orientating yourself will reveal names of these prominent points.

I am sure there are apps which track GPS more effectively, but for now, RunKeeper!

Update – Wari, an avid cyclist who has been plotting his rides for quite awhile now, recommends Motion-X GPS for the iPhone, which I have just downloaded:

“My fav app for doing real actual work with GPS is Motion-X GPS, @ $0.99, gives you an extensive utility on the phone. On top of that you can pre-download tiles of OSM maps for those areas you know you don’t have coverage. Give it a shot, the features are just too extensive to fit in a reply post.”

Talking to Malaysians

I was talking to Malaysians recently and of course they weighed in strongly on politics. They were emphatic about the role blogs played (and still play) in their national politics since before the last election. Blogs were critical in providing an alternate media and a free voice – and this was no young firebrand but voiced by ordinary folk including a practical and level headed teacher.

Technology continues to play a significant role, they say and the Perak crisis, which they describe as the unconstitutional ejection of the former Menteri Besar, is the sort of attempt at side-stepping due process that can no longer be whitewashed.

Meanwhile, they emphasise, as if to convince me, that “in Singapore, everything works”. The typical, boisterous cross-causeway cajoling rivalry of the past no longer seems to provide amusement; they have bigger fish to fry.

Meanwhile, “Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin, who maintains he is still Perak mentri besar, will file suit tomorrow to declare illegal the government of Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir, who was sworn-in by Sultan Azlan Shah last week…” – The Malaysian Insider.

Sungei Asa falls, Pulau Tioman

Lower falls

Upper falls, partial
(it curves and has three or more ledges)

I climbed the falls, slowly and carefully, due to a loose knee from the hikes with the insect teams earlier. When the freshwater team I was with went down to study the lower reaches, I climbed the second upper falls to look for that slow mowing part of the stream I remembered from years ago. I kept going until the stream disappeared under the rocks and realised it was time to head back. It was a short, tiring, reminiscent and exhilarating walk!

I hung a camera around my neck and will post a clip here later to see how that turned out. Giddy stuff as the camera swung around a bit.

Malaysia Decides, 2008

I was up late last night, watching the results of the Malaysia’s 12th general election stream in on Channel NewsAsia with fascination. I struggled to get on to the subscription-based Malaysiakini servers (free for a week to cover the elections) and eventually I found their mirrors through one of the Malaysian bloggers.

Many are calling the results a “tsunami” and it is leading the news on the BBC. CNA has a much wider coverage of course, with a special report covering the elections. Internet sites contributed significantly this time and was particularly important for the opposition to circumvent traditional media controls by bringing the battle online. in addition to traditional grunt work.

So this turned out to be the biggest upset in Malaysian elections since 1969, with the ruling Barisan National denied a two-thirds majority (required for constitutional change) and five states going to the opposition (Penang, Kedah, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan). Some heavyweights were knocked out in the process and this dramatic reversal of the 2004 landslide appears to have set the stage for the eventual exit of the current PM and the return of Anwar Ibrahim in April. Voting appears to have matured, shifting away from ethnic lines.

Almost every other report is a highlight, so just check CNA’s special report archives.

In 2004, someone pointed me to veteran blogger Jeff Ooi’s Screenshots and the Subang Jaya e-portal. I read him since, watching his prolific writing with awe and move from armchair to politics. He campaigned in Jelutong, Penang, somewhat ironically where his internet popularity was less than relevant. But he worked the ground with his (Democratic Action Party) party’s backing and earned his spurs the traditional way. He organised the DAP’s e-campaign, and ahem, revealed he can sing too. Here he is in front of the famous 30,000 crowd at DAP’s final election rally: