World Wildlife Day falls on 3rd March every year, and it’s a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The theme for World Wildlife Day in 2018 is “Big cats: predators under threat”. Big cats, and their smaller relatives, are among the most widely recognized and admired animals across the globe. However, today these charismatic predators are facing many and varied threats, which are mostly caused by human activities. Overall, their populations are declining at a disturbing rate due to loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, poaching and illegal trade.
In Singapore, both the Tiger (Panthera tigris) and Leopard (Panthera pardus) were wiped out, but the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) still survives. However, it too is threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation. The roads that run along and through our forest fragments take their toll. For example, it was feared that the Leopard Cat had become extinct in mainland Singapore, until 2001, when a roadkill was found in Mandai, on the fringes of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Another roadkill was reported from Jalan Bahar, along the edge of the Western Catchment, in 2007.
Roads also threaten Leopard Cats and other wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia – even big cats are not spared. There are two notable recent incidents: in February 2016, a Malayan Tiger was hit by a car as it crossed the East Coast Expressway Phase 2 in Terengganu, which cuts through a forest reserve. A necropsy revealed that it was a pregnant tigress. And in June 2017, a melanistic Leopard (typically called a ‘black panther’) was found dead along Jalan Sungai Yu-Merapoh in Pahang, not far from an eco-viaduct that serves as a wildlife crossing.
Over the past century we have been losing wild cats, among the planet’s most majestic predators, at an alarming rate. World Wildlife Day 2018 gives us the opportunity to raise awareness about their plight and to galvanize support for the many global and national actions that are underway to save these iconic species.
Fig. 2. View of original position of the snake in the phytotelma upon discovery.
Fig. 3. View of snake rearranged to feature head and severed part of the
Fig. 4. View of the dorsum of the snake rearranged within the phytotelma.
Fig. 5. View of the dorsum of the snake, with its head at the lowest point.
Photographs by Connor Butler
Carcass of Banded Malayan Coral Snake (Calliophis intestinalis) in a phytotelma
Location, date and time: Singapore Island, Windsor Nature Park, Venus Loop; 20 April 2017; 1000 hrs.
Observation: The anterior two-thirds of a dead Banded Malayan Coral Snake was found partially submerged in the phytotelma (Fig. 2). The posterior section of the snake’s body appeared to have been bluntly removed (Fig. 3). The remaining portion was 25 cm in length (Fig. 4 & 5).
Remarks: The incomplete carcass of the snake suggests that it had been partially eaten. As the Banded Malayan Coral Snake has semi-fossorial habits (see Baker & Lim, 2012: 116), its presence in the elevated phytotelma suggests that it was carried there. Possible predators include raptorial birds such as owls (see Chan, 2013), and
squirrels (see Ogilvie, 1958; Baker, 2017).
Baker, N., 2017. Slender Squirrel preying on gecko. Singapore Biodiversity Records. 2017: 54.
Baker, N. & K. K. P. Lim, 2012. Wild Animals of Singapore. A Photographic Guide to Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians and Freshwater Fishes. Updated edition. Draco Publishing and Distribution Pte. Ltd. and Nature Society (Singapore). 180 pp.
Chan K. W., 2013. Pink-headed Reed Snake captured by Buffy Fish Owl. Singapore Biodiversity Records. 2013: 89.
Ogilvie, C. S., 1958. The Arrow-tailed Flying Squirrel Hylopetes sagitta (Linne). The Malayan Nature Journal. 12 (4): 149-152.
In 2013, I was delighted to feature a photo of Annette the Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) 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.
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.
Ventral aspect of the Green Iguana carcass. Photograph by Ian Chew.
Roadkill Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) at Upper Thomson
Location, date and time: Singapore Island, Old Upper Thomson Road; 8 January 2017; 1700 hrs.
Observation: A carcass of a Green Iguana was found on the road. It may have been run over by a vehicle. Its snout-vent length was approximately 20 cm. The total length was 35 cm, but the tail was incomplete, possibly due to a prior injury.
Remarks: Green Iguanas are not native to Singapore. Adult and juvenile individuals, very likely abandoned pets and their progeny, have been recorded in the western and northern parts of Singapore, including Bukit Batok (Tay, 2015), Jurong (Low et al., 2016), Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Chua, 2007) and Kranji Reservoir around Sungei Tengah (Ng & Lim, 2014; Khoo, 2016). This appears to be the first published record in the central part of the island, at the edge of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
Chua. E.K., 2007. Feral Iguana attacks Varanus salvator at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Biawak. Quarterly Journal of the International Varanid Interest Group. 1 (1): 35-36.
Khoo, M. D. Y., 2016. Green Iguanas at Kranji Reservoir. Singapore Biodiversity Records. 2016: 185.
Low, M. R., D. P. Bickford, M. Tan & L. C. Neves, 2016. Malayopython (Python) reticulatus. Diet. Herpetological Review. 17 (1):148.
Ng B. C. & K. K. P. Lim, 2015. Green Iguana at Sungei Tengah. Singapore Biodiversity Records. 2015: 51.
Tay J. B., 2015. Green Iguana at Burgundy Crescent. Singapore Biodiversity Records. 2015: 188.