OtterWatch fb page reaches 5,000 likes, hooray for OtterWatch!

When Meryl Theng wanted to work on otters in 2010, she didn’t know I had been waiting for a student like her to turn up for a few years now. Smooth-coated otters first returned to the mainland in 1998 at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and were now in enough areas in the north-east as well, for a research project to be viable. It was time to put together our observations and submissions we had been receiving through email and Mammal Sightings in Singapore and to validate those sightings in the field.

The student would have to be tenacious, and the rest could be taught. That was Meryl with otters indeed.

As otters were occurring quite commonly in some areas and near enough for even handphone photos to be good enough for species identification and family counts. So the Facebook page OtterWatch ( was setup to recruit sightings of otters from people in Singapore.

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And boy, did they report! OtterWatch is now a means of highlighting the many wonderful images and videos shared by a large group of photographer-naturalists. With the links to various people, it is a launchpad for people here and abroad to discover otters in Singapore and the many people photographing them.

OtterWatch has become a moniker for the community or network of people who not only submit photos publicly, but who share immediate an critical information about otters through What’s App and email, with myself and a few critical other people in NParks, ACRES and Wildlife Reserves Singapore and who receive updates about ongoing action. This has contributed significantly to conservation advise which has been extended to various entities on numerous occasions.

After many accidental conversations, we finally took this a step further to form the Otter Working Group earlier this year. This group will include more entities, to enable early consultation and planning ahead. The natural maturation was spurred on ultimately by the otters!

But before our formal assembly, the working group was spurred into action when an abandoned otter cub was rescued, resuscitated and returned to his family group in May this year – OtterWatch plated a critical role, and the operation involved relevant people NParks, WRS and NUS. We consulted ACRES and kept AVA informed of the rationale behind the operation, plan of action and timeline.

20160702 Otterwatch
Banner by Max Khoo, otter photo composites by Jeff Teo

On 24 Jun 2016, my current otter student Max Khoo, announced that the Facebook page had reached 5,000 likes. He is thrilled by the outreach impact of the page which he manages now and its contributors. And so is Nicole Duplaix, chair of the IUCN-SSC Otter Specialist Group (OSG). In an effort to boost Asian otter research to address the crisis in the region, she brought the OSG’s 13th International Otter Congress to Singapore and is keen to highlight the efforts of OtterWatch as we develop a manifesto for otter conservation in Asia.

As Nicole and SMS Desmond Lee from the Ministry of National Development welcome the 100+ researchers, educators, researchers and conservationists to Singapore next Monday, Adrian Loo and I will introduce the Otter Working Group through the story of the rescue of the pup, named ZooToby by OtterWatch, to illustrate how we worked together naturally. I will elaborate the detailed mechanics over two decades later in the week.

We’ll be sure to quote Jeff Teo’s description of the process, in Audrey Tan’s article about the rescue of the pup (The Straits Times, 19 May 2016):

“The rescue and reintroduction of Toby has demonstrated an unprecedented collaboration and ‘make-it-happen’ spirit between members of the public and across multiple agencies. Everyone puts in their best, not for pride nor glory, we just want to bring Toby home. This is humanity at its best form.”

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Photo by Jeff Teo

Otterman Holt @ SCB Asia (Conservation Asia) – hooray!

My students are presenting at the Conservation Asia conference going on at NUS U Town this week. Joys, Chloe, Weiting and Tze Kwan are are all speaking tomorrow! They have been hobnobbing as well which is very good. Unfortunately I am engulfed in the Otter Congress so can’t soak in the exciting conference for any tropical biologist or support my students.

They have all been prepped about content. And Weiting, Tze Kwan and Chloe are EOB veterans and Joys has presented a couple of times already as well. All are nature guides and Weiting and Joys give school talks for civets and threats to marine life.

I am really glad they have this opportunity and am, confident they’ll be great – no pressure!

Update – am replacing their abstracts with photos from their talks today (Sat 03 Jul 2016)

  • 10.30am – Fung Tze Kwan
  • 12.45pm – Joys Tan
  • 3.00pm – Chloe Tan
  • 5.00pm – Xu Weiting
20160703 ConsbIoAsia Holt Ladies

Update – all happy after all their presentations!

Frugivory and seed dispersal by the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in a degraded landscape in Singapore
Fung, Tze Kwan, N. Sivasothi, Peter Ng
Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore

20160702 FTK at ConsAsia

Ranging behaviour of a provisioned long-tailed macaque troop during the closure of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore
Authors: Tan, Joys1, NParks (SBWR)2, Amy Klegarth3, Crystal Riley4 N. Sivasothi1
1Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, 14 Science Drive 4, 117543 Singapore. 2Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Branch, National Parks Board. 3Condon Hall, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98125. 4Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1114, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63130, USA.

20160702 JoysTan at ConsAsia

Love Our MacRitchie Forest: Garnering Public Support for the Re-routing of the Proposed Cross Island MRT Line (Singapore)
Chloe Tan
NUS Toddycats

20160702chloetan at ConsAsia

Promoting coexistence between humans and civets through community involvement and public education in Singapore
Xu Weiting, Fung Tze Kwan & N. Sivasothi
Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore

20160703 XWT ConsAsia

Photos by Weiting and Tze Kwan.

Otterman Holt, 2015/16: eight undergraduate research students – six honours and two UROPS

I am supervising eight undergraduate research students this year. Six are in their honours years and two in UROPS. In the shadows is an MSc Zoology student and thus far, two MSc Science Communication students.

While these undergraduate projects are part of their academic training, the projects will, as always, address issues of local conservation relevance, which we use for action on the ground and share with the public through public seminars and talks at An Evening of Biodiversity or the Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium and other meetings.

Some of my former students will thankfully come into play as mentors to the current cohort who build on existing lines of inquiry. We hope to make further progress this year:

  1. Claudine Tham – Distribution of frogs in a secondary forest (NParks proposed)
  2. Tan See Yi – Population status of the mangrove horseshoe crab at Mandai mangrove and mudflat
  3. Sarah Wee – The status of the small-clawed otter at Pulau Ubin, Singapore
  4. Diana Afiqah Binte Mohamed Juwahir – The vertebrate fauna of two impacted forest sites in Singapore
  5. Amanda Soh – Application of a pre-emptive strategy to reduce human-macaque conflict at a park in Singapore
  6. Tan Jia Xiu – Application of a pre-emptive strategy to reduce human-macaque conflict at a park in Singapore
  7. Max Khoo (4MC UROPS) – The ecology of smooth-coated otters in the Singapore River (Bishan Park and Marina Reservoir)
  8. Nicole Siew (8MC UROPS) – The freshwater fauna at two impacted primary forest patches in Singapore

I was glad to get everyone in a room this morning in Week 1 and we have identified proposed topics. But really, we just getting started. – to get these projects on the road, we will meet weekly this month to review the following:

  1. Research proposal (with project timeline): two rounds.
  2. Literature review: two rounds.
  3. Field Log, Field report and Protocols.
  4. Consultation with mentors.
  5. Consultation with and approval of relevant NParks managers.
  6. Application for NParks permits (Week 2).
  7. First aid certification (by September).
  8. Issue of personal first aid kits (Week 2).
  9. Project Risk Assessment approval: two rounds.
  10. IACUC approval (“use of animals for biodiversity/field study”): two rounds.
  11. Emergency scenarios responsiveness.

Oh boy!

Otterman Holt 2015 16

Recalling a wonderful thing which happened last year – students wow the audience at the Evening of Biodiversity II

The mammal seniors of Otterman Holt did well that evening and the crowd amazed us – 400 turned up (we maxed out parking) within a week of the announcement and enjoyed heartening talks of great clarity and pace.

When I ended the Evening of Biodiversity II with a “Aren’t they lovely?”, Prab Nathan positioned behind the table, caught the audience applauding, nice work!

While searching for photos of teaching, I finally really examined this photo. Wow, we did this last April?

2014 04 16 21 03 12 evebiod prab

The Evening of Biodiversity II (16 Apr 2014) featured talks by Amanda Tan, Chloe Tan, Marcus Chua, Meryl Theng, Fung Tze Kwan & Xu Weiting of the Otterman Holt, Department of Biological Sciences, NUS. Hosted by N. Sivasothi aka Otterman.

This was the simple announcement I made on Otterman speaks which we circulated to contributors of mammal records in addition to the usual circulation channels. Some members of the nature community observed happily that the crowd included many new faces, which was a happy indication of having reached people beyond the regular community.

The event was storified by Ivan Kwan and photos taken by Prhabagaran Ramanathan are on Flickr.

The first session in 2010 featured Andie Ang, Marcus Chua, Xu Weiting and Chua Yi Teng. Photos from the Evening of Biodiversity I (16 Apr 2010) are on Flickr.

I guess we’ll do this once in four years? 2018 then!

My research students 2014 04 16 21 24 53 evebiod Prab Nathan

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.

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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.

Marcus Chua talks about leopard cats at NSS on 1st Aug 2014

Really glad to see yet another one of the Otterman Holt contribute a public talk – this one of a series hosted by the Nature Society (Singapore), following Xu Weiting (common palm civets) and Meryl Theng (smooth-coated otters). Marcus is well practised and full of information from his MSc work, so look forward to a very interesting night by Catboy!

Click for details of this public talk

Talk Leopard Cats in Singapore  Surprising Discoveries in Our Forest But Here to Stay

Marcus Chua with Otterman and Rudolf Meier, two of his thesis supervisors
at the NUS Life Sciences convocation, 10 Jul 2014
2014 07 10 Marcus Chua graduation

Long-tail macaque research students Joys and Chui Ting to speak at Jane Goodall’s birthday celebration!

Two members of Otterman Holt, Joys Tan and Lai Chui Ting will be participating in JGIS’s celebration of Jane Goodall’s birthday at the end of the month. Their research about long-talied macaque-human interaction was suggested by ACRES and received help from long-tailed macaque practioners Amy Klegarth and Sabrina Jaafar and supported by NParks.

The students only began their studies this year – Joys Tan completed her 4MC UROPS last semester and Lai Chui Ting is in the midst of her honours project. They were invited to the JGI event as young researchers, to share some of their interesting findings with the public to appreciate an objective view of interactions and to encourage others to think about conducting studies too.

A public talk is a lot of work as their seniors know. Six of them did a great job presenting the “Secret Lives of Mammals“. For that clear, sound and confident delivery, they teased out the most coherent parts of their research, processed it to be concise, and reviewed it for accuracy and clarity. Then slides were scrutinised for clarity, imagery, colour and textual balance, and a script prepared. This tool ensured they were on time, picked suitable words, enabled analysis and facilitated practise. And practise, practise, practise to ensure an enjoyable and confident delivery.

Only them we could think about jokes!

Joys and Chui Ting are in the midst of preparing their first draft for scrutiny by their seniors. So they have lots of work ahead of them!

Vilma D’Rozario is managing the speakers which include veterans Andie and Jayashri, and will coordinate the session. She sent me this invitation below. Join us!

The Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) is organising the Jane Goodall Primate Session in celebration of Dr Jane’s 80th birthday. Their objectives are:

  1. Celebrate Dr Jane Goodall!
  2. Raise awareness about native primates in Singapore
  3. Share findings of local primate research
  4. Get to know some of the researchers involved in native primate research
  5. Inspire a future generation of Jane Goodalls!

The event, featuring three invited speakers will be conducted on Saturday 26 July 2014: 9.00am to 12.30pm at the Function Room of the Botanic Gardens. To attend, please register online at

See details in the pdf poster

JGIS_Event_Advert_9Jul14-1.pdf (1 page)

Update – this is lovely link, ““10 tips on how to make slides that really communicate your idea.

Exit Interviews with honours students

After a transforming year, it was time for “Exit Interviews” with my AY2013/4 honours students Iris Ng (distribution and activity pattern of the slender squirrel Sundasciurus tenuis in Singapore forests) and Germaine Leng (diet of the mangrove horseshoe crab Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda in Mandai Kechil mangrove and mudflat.

I took a break from marking to oversee their data dump (easier these days with Dropbox and and to chat with them about the significant learning points they experienced during honours.

To firm it up, they’ll send me a note they’ll which will identify learning points so they will actively surmount weaknesses and enhance strengths. Of course I learnt from them too and have begun implementing some of the lessons! They have’ll have an unknown influence on their juniors, just like their seniors did before them.

Later on this year, they will communicate their science through presentations, blog post and articles in future and participate in some other conservation activity. For these field warriors, the Exit Interviewsinterview is not the end, just a significant moment for all of us.

I like how it happens over an NUS wooden table which has persisted for more than quarter a century, and in a corridor of block S2 where I too had an extraordinary and transforming time during my honours year.

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2014 05 12 16 18 07 HDR

Naked Ape, Naked Boss – Kirpal on Bernard, an easy, enjoyable read of course!

Naked Ape, Naked BossI was busy with training the speakers for Evening of Biodiversity during the launch of Kirpal Singh’s book about Bernard Harrison, so one of my kakis Cynthia Lee picked up a copy for me.

She had Bernard sign it. He scrawled encouragement to look after the otters and she chuckled.

I sat down to it just now and unsurprisingly, finished it in a couple of hours. I especially liked, well all of it.

I had asked him to come for the Evening of Biodiversity but we were late in announcing this and he was already back in Bali. He would have enjoyed listening to the students speak and the small mammal studies are scientific descendants of his fathers interest.

My students are familiar with his father, Professor J. L. Harrison of the Department of Zoology at the University of Singapore as he had penned “An Introduction to Mammals of Singapore and Malaya” (1966) which they all cite. J. L. Harrison died too early at the age of 55, in 1972, possibly from scrub typhus.

Bernard Harrison’s management style was fascinating to observe, during his Singapore Zoo days and is something we wished would be more widespread. It is, however, unfortunately rare. When he left the zoo, it was for me the same feeling as when Singapore left the Malaysia Cup. Things would not would be same again.

Kirpal Singh writing about Bernard Harrison is just the sort of book to pass to my students. I encourage then to read, before they forget how and this one is easy-peasy food for thought.