Von Schrenck’s Bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)
Corporation Drive, 18th November 2013

This particular carcass has an interesting story. Von Schrenck’s Bittern is considered an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant in Singapore, with the last recorded individual being a single female in the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park in late April-early May this year (i.e. during the tail end of the 2012-2013 migratory season).

This individual, a male, might be the first local record of the species for the 2013-2014 season. Charmaine Chong encountered the carcass as she was leaving for work and tweeted a photograph of it (the image at the top). This was then forwarded to me by Justin Chan.

Once I was able to view the photo, I shared the details with my friend David Tan, who is a research student from the Avian Genetics Lab at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and who has been going around collecting bird carcasses reported all over Singapore.

David was subsequently able to retrieve the carcass, and took more photos, which he shared on Facebook. The bittern has been sampled for DNA and added to the Zoological Reference Collection of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), for future research purposes. The cause of death is still unknown, although it might have collided with a building, or simply died from exhaustion while on migration.

It’s especially sad to think that a migrant like this Von Schrenck’s Bittern could have come from as far away as Japan, Russia’s Amur region, or northern China, and survived all sorts of challenges along the way, only to die in Singapore. The possibility that this bird’s journey came to a premature end because it crashed into a building or window makes it even more heartbreaking; how many more of Singapore’s birds, both residents and migrants, are killed by buildings?

It also makes one wonder about all the rare birds that could be seeking refuge or simply passing through various parts of Singapore, with their presence going unreported because people in the area don’t initially realise their potential significance to ornithologists and birdwatchers.

Find out how you can contribute to Monday Morgue too.

Feral Pigeon

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Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)
Tiong Bahru, 6th October 2012

This carcass of a Feral Pigeon was seen by Jocelyn Yin.

I decided to feature this species as a commemoration of sorts: On 29th December, The Pigeonhole, one of my favourite cafes, closed due to rising rentals and funding issues. It’s a tragic loss, and it’s not only because I loved to hang out there with friends, or that I became friends with the owners, or that I loved the coffee and ciders.

For close to 2 years, The Pigeonhole wasn’t just a cafe to sit down with a cup of coffee and a book, it was a space for the arts and civil society, where small-scale events and exhibitions were held, where ideas were conceived and incubated.

The development of Monday Morgue itself beyond this blog has close connections with The Pigeonhole; it was during the Tanjong Pagar KTM and Green Corridor Open Mic session held there in June 2011 that I did a public talk about the importance of animal carcasses (with plenty of gruesome photos of animal carcasses I’d found along the railway tracks). The lively reception I received from the small audience helped me gain confidence in sharing about this rather niche (and very morbid) interest.

The Pigeonhole was also where I sat down one afternoon at the beginning of May to set up a Facebook page for Monday Morgue, a few weeks before I gave a talk at the Festival of Biodiversity. And I’ve lost track of all the times I wrote posts, or edited and processed photos, or uploaded old shots to Monday Morgue’s Instagram for #DailyDecay, while drinking toffee apple cider or brown latte there.

For now, The Pigeonhole continues to exist as an online entity, and hopefully, the owners will be able to find a new and affordable place to re-establish a physical space. Until then, this is my way of giving thanks for all the #pigeonholememories.

Find out how you can contribute to Monday Morgue too.

A word of thanks

I’m really pleased to see the support that Monday Morgue has received from many people, especially in the Singapore Blog Awards 2012. Although I did not have high hopes at first, I’m now able to count myself as one of the top three currently leading in votes for my category.


Here’s a screenshot showing who are the current leaders in votes for each category. (Taken at 12.15 pm, 12th June 2012)

I’m not sure if the arrangement of our icons has anything to do with the actual number of votes, but it keeps changing over the course of the day.

It’s heartwarming to receive words of encouragement from friends and other folks on Twitter, many of whom I actually don’t know in real life, people who have gone to trouble to login and vote regularly, even without me making frequent online appeals. Not to mention the regular updates on Twitter from other Finalists in other categories, announcing who they’ve voted for; through them, I’ve managed to discover a wide variety of other blogs, and have made it a daily habit to vote for them as well.

And here’s a bonus! Many of the other Finalists have created self-introductory videos to help draw attention and votes, and I’ve finally found the time to sit down and produce a short video clip of my own. You don’t actually get to see my face or hear my voice, but I hope it’s an effective introduction to Monday Morgue, and what makes it so unique.

Do vote for Monday Morgue, and thank you all once again for your support!

(Cross-posted to The Lazy Lizard’s Tales)

Festival of Biodiversity on Storify


(Photo by Fung Tze Kwan)

If you weren’t able to attend my talk on Sunday and want to find out more about the things I discussed, or simply want to relive your memories of looking at the many photos of dead animals I shared, here’s a Storify, which I compiled using tweets from my friends Chen Jiaxin (@fishyjelly) and Xu Weiting (@beastiet), who live-tweeted my talk:

Bodies of evidence: A morbid celebration of biodiversity
by Ivan Kwan

//storify.com/VaranusSalvator/bodies-of-evidence-a-morbid-celebration-of-biodive.js

[View the story “Bodies of evidence: A morbid celebration of biodiversity” on Storify]

Also, if you want to catch up on what happened before, during and after the entire Festival of Biodiversity, here’s a Storify curated by Gladys Chua (@cubismwonder) and myself. Jocelyne Sze also has a post with links to all the various blog posts and photo albums from the Festival.

Like I mentioned in a tweet yesterday, after the excitement and high from the weekend, I think I am now suffering from Festival of Biodiversity withdrawal.

Vote Monday Morgue!

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Me in my element: Guiding as a volunteer with the Raffles Museum Toddycats!.
(Photo by Boh Zuze)

It’s been such a fun and fulfilling weekend at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, sharing interesting stories about Singapore’s wildlife and wild places with members of the public. And I’m really pleased that my talk about the importance of documenting dead animals was very well-received. I’ll write about my weekend soon enough, but now that the fun and festivities from the Festival of Biodiversity are over, it’s time for Monday Morgue to focus on another significant event: the Singapore Blog Awards. If you recall, I’m currently a finalist in the Sold.sg Best What-the-Hell Blog category.

Voting opened last Monday, and everyone can cast one vote per category every day until 30th June. I hope that I’ll be able get more support, not just from friends who are familiar with this blog, but also with new readers. A big thanks to Crystal and Jerome, who are finalists in other categories, and who have shown their support for Monday Morgue!

In the meantime, while I prepare a nice blog post to show you all about what happened at the Festival of Biodiversity, here’s a short interview for the Singapore Blog Awards:

How do you feel about being one of Finalists in Singapore Blog Awards 2012?

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Orange-spotted Grouper @ Pulau Ubin

I’m really thrilled to be selected as a finalist! Mainly because I feel that there is a very strong nature blogging community in Singapore, but it has been overlooked by many in the local blogosphere; we all know about blogs written by people based in Singapore that focus on subjects such as politics, food, fashion, beauty, and gadgets, but Singapore’s nature blogs are sadly still quite relatively obscure, despite drawing impressive numbers of readers and attention from all around the world. Monday Morgue is quite a unique blog in terms of its focus, but through it, I hope that more Singaporeans will be able to discover the beauty of Singapore’s wildlife, and that there are things that we as ordinary citizens can do to reduce the threats to our often fragile habitats and ecosystems.

When did you start blogging and what drew you to it? Where do you get inspiration for your blog content?

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Changeable Lizard @ Bukit Panjang

I started blogging way back in mid-2003, with a personal blog that became a dumping ground for rants, a journal for my adventures, as well as random links and articles I discovered on the Internet. I stopped writing for some time, then resumed in 2008 with a blog entitled The Lazy Lizard’s Tales, focusing entirely on nurturing my passion for nature, wildlife and conservation. I realised that I am very enthusiastic where it comes to talking and sharing about wildlife and conservation topics, and have dedicated much of my time towards volunteering as a guide with local nature interest groups. Blogging serves as another platform to reach out to people and share the message that despite the massive loss of our original habitats over the last few centuries due to development, Singapore does still possess lots of fascinating biodiversity, but the future of its wildlife and wild places is not secure unless Singaporeans care enough to want to protect and learn how to balance development with an appreciation for nature and conservation.

Monday Morgue started out originally as a weekly series on The Lazy Lizard’s Tales; I love the outdoors, and explore and visit many nature areas in Singapore on a regular basis. On these trips, I frequently stumbled upon the carcasses of dead animals. Some had possibly died of natural causes, while others had clearly been killed as a result of human activities. I started developing a morbid fascination for taking photos of the carcasses or other remains of animals. Unlike many of my friends, I don’t have a DSLR camera with nice expensive gear such as telephoto or macro lens or tripods to take nice photos of birds or butterflies. What I like is that dead animals don’t run or swim away, don’t get stressed when you get too close, and better still, can be rearranged or repositioned if they are hidden and you can’t take decent photos.

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Spotted Green Puffer @ Changi
The photo that started it all: My very first Monday Morgue entry.

I eventually moved Monday Morgue to a dedicated site of its own in 2011, and this is the site that you see today.

What inspires me? It’s more than just a morbid interest in posting photos of dead animals and grossing people out, it’s also about showing clear examples of wildlife that can be found in Singapore. Many people don’t realise how much wildlife has managed to survive, and if we don’t know what natural treasures we possess, we won’t care enough to want to protect it in the long term. One thing in particular that drives me is the desire to tell stories about the many causes behind the deaths of wildlife in Singapore.

Some of the animals featured here probably died of natural causes, but others are very likely to have been killed because of human activities of some sort. Whether it’s snakes getting run over by cars, birds flying into buildings, a seashore wiped out by an oil spill, anglers leaving behind nets that entangle and kill marine life, or well-meaning people who believe that they are doing good deeds by releasing animals, but sometimes in the wrong environment, I do often try to show real-life examples of how human beings can end up killing animals, even if it’s not on purpose. It often saddens and even angers me when I come upon examples of how an animal was unnecessarily killed by human activities, such as accounts of birds being killed because they got entangled in fishing lines, or people thinking that they are acting for the good of their pets by releasing abandoning captive birds, turtles or fishes in the park or reservoir, when in fact they most probably condemned these animals to a slow, agonising death.

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Javan Myna @ Tampines

The animals featured here are all already dead, and although we can weep or rant all day long if we see a carcass of a rare and endangered species, nothing we do will ever revive them. What matters is that we can learn valuable lessons from the dead. Hopefully, the content in some of the posts on Monday Morgue can serve as catalysts for people to find out more about issues such as deforestation, the problems caused by urban development near forests and other nature areas, and the irresponsible behaviour of other people. By raising awareness of these threats, many of us in the nature blogging community in Singapore hope that this can then help people be better informed when we are discussing issues such as littering and clearing of land to make way for housing and other developments, and how wildlife can be negatively affected. Ultimately, our ability to understand these problems on a local, regional, and even global scale can help give conservation a much-needed boost and the attention it rightfully deserves, and lead to feedback that can help influence and shape public policy to build a Singapore that shows a widespread and genuine appreciation for our natural heritage. I may be an idealist at times, but there’s no harm in daring to dream big.

I’ve also recently started the trend of posting photos of dead animals sent in by others, and it turns out that many people do encounter very interesting examples of dead wildlife, often representing species that I have yet to see for myself. In this way, people all over Singapore can contribute to further knowledge of what animals can be found living in Singapore, a better understanding of how human behaviour and activities affect wildlife, and even alert us to rare specimens that can be retrieved for future research and education purposes.

How do you feel about the other Finalists in your category this year? How do you think you will fare compared to them?

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Horn-eyed Ghost Crab @ Sentosa

I’ve taken a brief glance at most of the other Finalists’ blogs, and while I can’t say that I am familiar with them, I have read some posts which I find amusing or interesting. On the other hand, I feel that Monday Morgue stands out because it has a singular focus. The only other Finalist in this category that has a particular theme and sticks to it is The Neo Tokyo Project, which is dedicated to cosplay. I’m not too humble to state that Monday Morgue does cover a rather… strange topic, even as far as nature bloggers are concerned; it is quite underground and unorthodox in terms of subject matter, and according to many of my friends, checking out the latest updates on Monday Morgue often makes them go, “What the Hell!” I’m not aggressively vying to win this category, especially since this is my first time as a Finalist, but it would be fun to find out how many more people end up reading Monday Morgue. And as long as more people become aware of Singapore’s biodiversity through visiting (and hopefully voting for) Monday Morgue and understand the need for conservation of our natural spaces, then it is a gain for the nature blogging community.

Here’s an example of one such photo that has drawn quite dramatic reactions. It’s the decomposing carcass of a domestic dog, which I found on the KTM railway tracks in Buona Vista last year, back when the trains still terminated at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Most probably a stray, the dog had clearly picked the wrong time to dash across the tracks.

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Domestic Dog @ Buona Vista

Give a reason why readers should visit your blog and vote for you?

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Rare-spined Murex @ Pasir Ris

Nature and conservation are topics that have been overlooked and underappreciated by many Singaporeans, even though we pride ourselves in being the Garden City, with numerous parks and green spaces scattered across the island. There are many other excellent local nature blogs, but as far as I know, mine is the only Singapore-based blog that looks exclusively at dead animals. How’s that for being unique? 😉

If you want something to liven up your dreary Monday mornings, or wake you up when you arrive at work still half-asleep, then I advise that you give the contents of Monday Morgue a try. At the same time, you can also learn some interesting information about Singapore’s wildlife, with links to more comprehensive resources on the Internet for you to discover more about the animals featured. It’s entertaining, builds up your resistance to gory and graphic images (excellent for maintaining that poker face while watching Saw or The Human Centipede), and best of all, it’s educational!

You can check out Monday Morgue’s Facebook page, follow me on Twitter via my profile @Varanussalvator, or the hashtags #MondayMorgue and #DailyDecay, or follow @MondayMorgue on Instagram.

Do vote for Monday Morgue!

(Cross-posted to The Lazy Lizard’s Tales)

It’s Showtime!

The Festival of Biodiversity begins tomorrow!

Many of us are busy making preparations for the weekend, with a wide range of activities for the whole family to enjoy. Besides doing booth duty as a volunteer guide with the Marine Exhibtion and the Raffles Museum Toddycats!, I also plan to participate in some of the film screenings, symposiums, and of course, not to forget my talk on Sunday.

I was quite surprised and pleased to see that my talk was mentioned in The Straits Times, as one of the many activities and events taking place at the Festival.

BODIES OF EVIDENCE: A MORBID CELEBRATION OF BIODIVERSITY

What: Learn what dead animals can tell us about wildlife and the impact of human activities on the natural environment in urban Singapore. Presented by nature blogger Ivan Kwan.

When: Sunday, 2 to 2.45pm
Where: Function Room

The press selected my photo of the skull of a wild boar (Sus scrofa vittatus), which I saw at Chek Jawa on 30th May 2009, to go with the article.

I’ve been quite busy over the last couple of weeks, getting my presentation slides done up, trying to create some coherence out of the whole jumble of photos of dead animals. Not to mention all the people I’ve been contacting for permission to use their own photos in my talk. A big thank you to all of those who have so graciously and generously granted my humble requests.

Here’s a sneak peek at the slides I’ve prepared.

It’s already more or less complete, and I hope that I still manage to keep to the 45-minute time limit. I’ll be spending tonight and tomorrow night practising and rehearsing, and hopefully, I won’t need to cull too much content.

Credit goes to all the people who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes, including the folks at NParks, as well as volunteers and staff from all the various organisations. Do check the official blog for the Festival of Biodiversity (maintained by Jocelyne) for more updates!

I promise that I’ll blog more about the Singapore Blog Awards after Sunday (Vote for me). See you at the Festival!

(Cross-posted to The Lazy Lizard’s Tales)

Yet more shameless self-promotion

Monday Morgue is a finalist in the Singapore Blog Awards 2012!

This blog is currently a contender in the Sold.SG Best What-the-Hell Blog category:

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(No offence intended to fellow finalists in the same category)

When the organisers were fielding nominations, I decided to nominate Monday Morgue for this particular category, since I figured that it is a blog that covers quite an unconventional topic, and besides, these blog awards need more representatives from the nature blogging community.

Like I mentioned in a recent post, it’s interesting and exciting to see how a weekly feature on my primary nature blog has become such a hit. People really do have a morbid interest in dead animals.

Voting is now open until 30th June 2012, and everyone can cast one vote per category every day. You need to register an account with omy to vote, but once that’s done, voting is straightforward and fuss-free.

I’d also like to draw my readers’ attention to a couple of bloggers who are finalists in other categories, and who write about topics related to nature and conservation in Singapore. Both of them were participants in last year’s Singapore Blog Awards.

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Crystal Riley, who writes Crystal and Bryan in Singapore, is in the Panasonic Eco Best Lifestyle Blog category. Crystal is one half of an expat couple living in Singapore, and she has much to share about their encounters with Singapore’s biodiversity and visits to various nature areas. Crystal studies the long-tailed macaques of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, although she and her fiancé Bryan will be moving to St. Louis in August, where she will start a PhD program at Washington University. We wish her all the best!

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Jerome Lim, who writes The Long and Winding Road, is in the Panasonic Eco Best Photography Blog category. Jerome shares a lot about his wanderings around Singapore, with a slant towards heritage sites and other places of historical value. He gives regular updates about the Green Corridor, has documented his visits to Bukit Brown Cemetery, and has also recently written about the upcoming Gardens by the Bay.

Finally, if you’re new to this blog, I bid you a warm welcome. Besides my usual weekly updates here every Monday morning, you can also keep track of Monday Morgue via the following methods:

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‘Like’ Monday Morgue on Facebook

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Follow@MondayMorgue on Instagram, or search the hashtags #MondayMorgue and #DailyDecay

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Follow me (@Varanussalvator) or the hashtag #MondayMorgue on Twitter

And of course, if you’re curious as to what Monday Morgue is all about, do come down for my talk this coming Sunday afternoon, at the Festival of Biodiversity at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

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I have to say, I’m really excited about being a finalist in the Singapore Blog Awards 2012, and may the most deserving bloggers win!

(Cross-posted to The Lazy Lizard’s Tales)