Happy Lunar New Year to all! According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Monkey, and perhaps a good time for us to all play a part in helping our fellow primates.

In Singapore, many Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) troops live in areas that overlap with human use – whether it’s residential neighbourhoods along the forest edge, or public parks and nature trails within our forests. Conflict arises usually as a result of feeding of monkeys. Having become habituated, these monkeys often resort to raiding nearby homes and rubbish bins, and harassing people and snatching food from passers-by. In some cases, people get scratched or bitten. Many people also don’t know how to behave around monkeys, especially towards juveniles, and end up provoking the adults, resulting in people getting charged at and chased. Feeding of monkeys close to roads also leads to many instances of roadkills.

Complaints from the public lead to monkeys being trapped, removed, and euthanised, although culling is not an effective management strategy, since it doesn’t target specific “problem” individuals, but instead simply reduces the population, removing monkeys that likely weren’t causing much trouble in the first place.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

You can help monkeys by not feeding them, and stopping others from feeding. Avoid attracting their attention while hiking by not eating and drinking in their presence. Many monkeys have learnt that plastic bags often contain food, so conceal them. If your home is close to the forest and monkeys visit your neighbourhood, you can reduce raiding by installing window grilles and securing your bins. Don’t be that asshole who teases and harasses monkeys. If you’re walking your dog in the forest, keep it leashed and don’t let it chase monkeys. Slow down and look out for wildlife when you’re driving, especially if you’re on roads close to the forests.

Reducing human-wildlife conflict is as much about changing human behaviour and attitudes as it is about managing wildlife. Let’s make this a good year for our monkeys.

(Photo by Sabrina Jabbar)

Happy New Year everybody!

Here are some of my favourite finds of 2015:

Upper Left: Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

I was awestruck (and also very sad) to see such an impressively large (~1.7 – 2 metres long) Malayan Water Monitor dead by the side of the road, possibly hit by a vehicle.

Upper Right: Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) @ Pasir Ris Park

There is a nesting colony of Grey Herons in Pasir Ris Park. It’s quite strange that they chose to nest in an area with quite a lot of human traffic and noise, but the colony seems to be expanding over the years. I’ve been looking at these herons for some time, but 2015 was the first time I could walk beneath the trees they nest in, and found chicks that had fallen out or otherwise didn’t make it.

Lower Left: Palm King (Amathusia phidippus phidippus) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Earlier in 2015, one of my colleagues found a caterpillar and kept it for a while. Shortly after, it pupated, and when the adult butterfly emerged, we learnt that it was a Palm King, and released it. Several months later, another colleague found a dead Palm King near our office. I doubt it was the same individual that we’d released though. Also, I’m really lousy at identifying butterflies, but thanks to these two encounters with Palm Kings, I now know how to identify this species in the field.

Lower Right: Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

One of the most elusive and rarest of our native mammals, and the last wild cat species still extant in Singapore. Leopard Cats are known to inhabit Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, but finding a carcass was really unexpected.

Centre: Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) @ Singapore Strait

Finally, a carcass I didn’t actually see for myself, but this has got to be the most spectacular dead animal finding of the year.

Happy New Year everybody!

2015 saw mass fish deaths on an unprecedented scale. From late February to mid March, beaches along some stretches of the eastern Straits of Johor were covered in the carcasses of thousands of dead fishes of various species. While the victims of previous mass mortality events were predominantly farmed fishes being raised for seafood in offshore floating cages, in 2015 a staggering proportion of the casualties were wild fishes. It was alarming and extremely distressing to witness the scale of this catastrophe – it was almost as if every fish in these waters, large and small, had been killed overnight.

Besides the impact on wild fishes, the many fish farmers in the area were hit especially hard. Many of them were already struggling to recover from mass fish deaths from previous years, and it remains to be seen how many of them will still be in business in 2016.

The culprit behind these mass deaths was reported to be Karlodinium veneficum, a toxic dinoflagellate that is usually found in low densities in the plankton, but can also form blooms that are associated with such mass deaths.

Whether these harmful algal blooms arose due to wholly natural causes or were the indirect and unintended result of human activities in the Straits of Johor, hopefully the marine ecosystems affected by the mass deaths have managed to recover since the catastrophe. And as as much as these events present a wonderful opportunity for me to gather more material for Monday Morgue, I hope that we’re spared from these disasters in 2016.

Here are 4 species of fish I found during the mass deaths at Pasir Ris in late February; they made their debut on Monday Morgue in 2015.

  • Upper Left: Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)
  • Upper Right: Goatee Croaker (Dendrophysa russelli)
  • Lower Left: Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta)
  • Lower Right: Talang Queenfish (Scomberoides commersonnianus)

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! Wishing all of you good health, fortune, prosperity, and happiness in the Year of the Goat/ Sheep/ other bovid ruminant from the subfamily Caprinae.

I don’t have any photos of dead goatfishes, and unlike other countries, we don’t have wild or domestic goats wandering our more rural areas, but I did take a photo of what I think were someone’s leftovers (possibly the remains from a meal of sup tulang, or mutton bone marrow soup). I knew I should have taken a photo of that butchered goat carcass I saw hanging above a roadside food stall while holidaying in Bali.

Happy New Year everyone!

2014 was a year full of incidents of mass fish deaths, many of them involving offshore fish farms in the Straits of Johor. While these fishkill episodes generate a lot of content for Monday Morgue, it’s also worrying. Are environmental conditions in our waters able to support so many fish farms and such high densities of fishes? Are there measures in place to prevent all these dead fishes from floating out to sea and causing further pollution of surrounding areas? What are the effects on wild populations of fishes and other marine life, since many of them also end up as casualties along with the farmed fishes? Are the fish farms able to sustain their businesses in the face of such heavy losses, which seem to be taking place with alarming frequency? Hopefully these and more issues with aquaculture in Singapore can be resolved in the years to come.

This collage shows 4 species of fishes which are raised in floating cages in the Straits of Johor, with huge numbers dying during several mass mortality events in 2014.

Upper Left: Milkfish (Chanos chanos) @ Sungei Buloh
Upper Right: Flathead Grey Mullet (Mugil cephalus) @ Sungei Buloh
Lower Left: Snapper (Lutjanus sp.) @ Changi
Lower Right: Grouper (Epinephelus sp.) @ Changi