Farewell dear Annette, queen of the Hindhede troop – yet another macaque killed on a small road adjacent to the nature reserve

In 2013, I was delighted to feature a photo of Annette the long-tailed macaque of the Hindhede troop, catching forty winks. The then pregnant Annette reminded us of the day to day exploits of our local native primates go through, not unlike ourselves.

Researcher Amanda Tan had shared that image over twitter as she prepared for field studies in Thailand for her graduate work. Similarly, another of Singapore’s ‘monkey girls’, Sabrina Jaafar, shares stories of her encounters with various individuals and troops during her work with monkeys through Facebook.

These primate workers had transformed their study subjects into well-loved individuals who have been followed by many of us, who sit far away in our offices, dreaming of the forest. And their stories have guided my students as well.

Photo by Amanda Tan, 2013

The urban animals tough, resourceful or adaptable enough to survive alongside us in urban Singapore face many challenges. Long-tailed macaques in Singapore face being trapped and killed which has eliminated one-third the population in some years. The native monkeys also face an onslaught by fast traffic on small roads adjacent to nature reserves. Sabrina has chronicled several such tragedies and other primate researches I talk to have noted broken bones and other injuries in study subjects over the years. Her words have not gone unnoticed.

In 2012, naturalists local and overseas were upset to read of the death of Nad, the reigning queen from the Hindhede troop. It was wretched, and should not have happened that close to the nature reserve when cars should be travelling carefully. Then last week (8th February 2017), I discovered that yet again, an avoidable death had occured – Annette, like Nad before her, was mercilessly killed by a speeding car, on a small road next to the nature reserve.

Sabrina and Amanda penned these thoughts, which they agreed to share.

Sabrina Jabbar wrote (8th February 2017),

“The demise of animals whom you had studied and contributed to conservation, are always the hardest.

Annette, the reigning queen of the Hindhede troop lost her life after being hit by a speeding car on Monday evening. She has been a significant study subject for many years and known by many of us as the prettiest girl with a very unique character. She has played such a vital role during the Monkey Guards project in 2015 and has helped all my Monkey friends in their individual study and survey. Annette used to dislike me as I was always walking in between her and the residential houses during the Monkey Guards project, so that she can’t enter. But over time, she has learnt to trust my intentions and it had led to some very remarkable milestones during the project.

Residents grew fond of her when they watched videos of her comical antics. I treasured the friendship we had and it was always a pleasure to introduce her to residents and participants at the Monkey Walk. She tops my list as the most number of individual Macaque photo taken. It is really a shame for beautiful wild animals like Annette, who have to die in this manner. It is a great loss for her troop. Her daughter was sighted sniffing the site where the unfortunate incident took place.

Till date, I cannot understand negligent drivers driving along the roads of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I do not hope for much given the mindset of “complain so cull”, but may this help, especially to those who misunderstands them realize that the Macaques are unique individuals, and the passing of one can affect the group overall. And i will repeat time and time again – drive carefully around nature reserves. Is the need for speed really necessary?

We will miss you very dearly, Annette. I will miss all your grunts and antics. Thank you for teaching me to take life as it comes. RIP pretty girl.”

Amanda Tan, who is revisiting her tool-using long-tail macaque troop in Thailand, wrote (9th February 2017):

“Annette, your beautiful face, charm, and devil-may-care attitude stood out immediately to me when I first visited the Hindhede group seven years ago. You were the first monkey I came to know, and the first to teach me about the colorful personalities and rich social lives of macaques, so often just seen as the “common” or “pest” monkeys. As I followed you and your group, I developed the passion for learning and sharing as much as I can about macaques, in the hopes of changing, or at least expanding perceptions of these easily overlooked primates. That has started me on this strange but incredible journey of studying monkeys, and it has truly enriched my life, with places, people, and experiences I would never have had otherwise. People often ask me, why monkeys, why macaques, why not chimps or orangutans? I wish they could have spent a day with you. RIP beautiful girl.

Its useless now to hope for the driver who did this to feel remorseful, but I wish for everyone driving around nature reserves to drive slowly and responsibly. Watch out for monkeys and other wildlife. Each of their lives matter.”

As the garden city evolves, our management of wildlife will need to mature as well. Fast cars along small roads adjacent to nature parks and nature reserves need to be slowed, by design, law and education. Buffers around these areas which were set aside as a refuge to nature must allow for the safety of both wildlife and park users. The one follows the other.

Annette should have been around for many more years, to delight and educate many more students, researchers and residents. Rest well, my friend.

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Photo by Joys Tan, who got to know Annette during her 2014/15 thesis work

Sat 4th Feb 2017 – World Wetlands Day coastal cleanup at Lim Chu Kang beach and mangrove

The International Coastal Cleaup Singapore team is celebrating the Year of the Fire Rooster with a Chinese New Year / World Wetlands Day coastal cleanup at Lim Chu Kang beach and mangrove on Saturday 4th Feb 2017: 7.45am – 11.00am. Join us as we extend some tender loving care for one of our precious fragments of mangrove in Singapore.

Please sign up by Wed 1st Feb 2017. Transport provided from Kranji MRT. For details and registration, please head over to the Eventbrite Page.

Yup, we want to tackle this mess:

Citizen Science Symposium at Yale-NUS College, 3-4 March 2017 (free; register)

An upcoming symposium on citizen science at Yale-NUS College, 3-4 March 2017 which will feature a mixture of talks and workshops, with the goal of increasing understanding of citizen science both locally and internationally. Anticipated topics are the role of technology in citizen science, and bridging citizen science with pedagogy.

All are invited to register to attend (free) at the registration page.


See what the otter brought back home!

As with everything else, I wished we had more time to put together the IUCN-SSC Otter Specialist Group’s 13th International Otter Congress. Still, some 120 otter folk are here (3rd – 8th July 2016), sharing information, getting lots of work done and motivating each other.

It has been especially lovely that the resurgence of the smooth-coated otter in Singapore has been shared with our lovely friends from around the world, whose work has supported and encouraged positive action by many of us in this network.

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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 (http://fb.com/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.

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
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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.