DEAD BUT NOT USELESS: Mr Marcus Chua studies a rat specimen that was obtained from a roadkill at Paya Lebar. TNP PHOTOS: BENJAMIN LIM
Researchers at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum preserve dead wild animals for study
By Regina Marie Lee, 18th June 2014;
He was waiting for the train at Paya Lebar MRT station in April when he spotted a “brown patch” on the East-West Line platform.
“I nearly stepped on this brown patch on the floor. On closer inspection, I realised it was a bat,” said Sean Yap.
The 22-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) life sciences undergraduate was surprised, but quickly tried to salvage the carcass.
He said: “A train had just arrived, so my friend blocked passers-by from stepping on the bat as I used tissue to pick it up, and placed it in a piece of bubble wrap.
"I didn’t recognise the bat species, and it was smaller and more fluffy than the common types in Singapore, so I salvaged it for the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) at NUS.”
He has tried to salvage other road kill for the museum before.
It was indeed a bat not commonly encountered here, according to LKCNHM officer Marcus Chua. There is only one other confirmed record of this species – the Javan Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus javanicus) – in Singapore.
Mr Yap explained: “The museum is always on the lookout for specimens because it prefers not to kill animals that are still living.”
While a dead wild animal on the roads can be an obstacle or safety hazard for other people, it is a potential specimen for study for the LKCNHM’s researchers.
Mr Chua, 30, said: “In the past, people used to shoot and collect wild animals for studying.
"But as we experienced habitat loss and some species became rarer in Singapore, conservation became the priority. Recognising that, (researchers) rely mainly on salvaging dead animals for study.”
It is usually officers from the National Parks Board or friends of the museum who report road-kill sightings.
On average, the museum gets a sighting once every two months. They can be found anywhere, but, for mammals, especially at the periphery of nature reserves.
Mr Chua said: “Road-kill specimens are important because every carcass tells a story. Researchers can learn about where the animal came from. It could highlight the population…at certain locations, or tell us what sort of migratory birds are coming to Singapore.”
The DNA collected is added to a DNA bank, and chemical analysis done on the animal can highlight environmental pollution.
The Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) was thought to be extinct in mainland Singapore, with the last reported sighting in 1968.
But one was run over by a vehicle in Mandai Road in 2001, showing that the species had survived in Singapore.
However, getting the road kill is always a race against time.
“It is a competition with the National Environment Agency,” he said, laughing. “They want to keep the roads clean while we want to get the road kill.”
Those who spot a dead wild animal can inform the museum on 6516-5082 during office hours, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org