Toddycats! Museum Fest 2002

Where can we find biodiversity in Singapore?


Virtually everywhere! However, it is most diverse in places that have not been severely disturbed or altered by humans. In Singapore, these include natural habitats like the rainforest, the mangrove swamp

Where can we find biodiversity in Singapore?

<photos> - Coral rubble habitat at Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, Rainforest in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Mangrove trees at St. John's Island, Mangrove swamp in the Sungei Buloh Nature Park.

<photos/exhibits> - Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), Dugong foetus (Dugong dugon), Banded Leaf Monkey (Presbytis femoralis), Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel (Ratufa affinis), Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang), Wild Piglet (Sus scrofa),

The island republic of Singapore may be very small and highly urbanised, but large and spectacular animals like tigers, dolphins and elephants are known to roam or used to roam her soils and seas. How can this be?

The northern coastline of Singapore is barely one kilometre away from the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. So close, in fact, that large animals can easily swim across the Johor Straits from Malaysia as they would any large river. And indeed they do, considering that animals do not recognise political boundaries drawn by humans! Wild pigs, elephants, tapir, and perhaps even a tiger have recently landed on the mangrove-fringed shores of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong in the Johor Straits.

What happens when these large animals come across man? Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong are largely covered in secondary forest, mangroves and abandoned plantations. In these, wild pigs thrive with little human disturbance. However, these islands are too small to support elephants and tigers, and they are unlikely to stay there. More likely, they would be artificially repatriated before they could pose a serious threat to human residents and tourists.

Even if there is no recruitment from across the causeway, Singapore Island still abounds with smaller, but no less spectacular animals and plants. In fact, we are still finding new records, and even new species from recent biodiversity surveys on and around the island! Some of these species are endemic to Singapore, and are found nowhere else in the world.



BUKIT TIMAH CRYPTOCORYNE Cryptocoryne timahensis
This aquatic plant is described as a new hybrid from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in 2001. There it flourishes in shallow, shady forest streams. It makes an attractive aquarium plant, and may be susceptible to over-collection for that purpose.


SINGAPORE STREAM CRAB Johora singaporensis
First described from Singapore in 1986, this small (3 cm wide) amphibious crab is found in streams in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and nowhere else in the world. It is an omnivorous scavenger that moves about among the leaf litter and under rocks. Therefore, it is seldom seen. The survival of the world's population of the Singapore stream crab is dependent on the health of the existing forest and streams under the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

TEMASEK SHRIMP Caridina temasek
This small (about 7.5 mm) freshwater shrimp occurs in streams in the Central Catchment Area. It has delicate pincers that are modified for filtering minute organisms in the water. It was described from Singapore in 1991, and has since been found in Peninsular Malaysia.


PETER'S BENT-TOED GECKO Cyrtodactylus consobrinus
First recorded in Singapore in 1993, this large (about 30 cm) gecko is found mainly on rock surfaces and tree trunks. It is nocturnal and feeds largely on insects. In Singapore, it appears to be restricted to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

HAWKSBILL TURTLE Eretmochelys imbricata
This marine turtle occurs in shallow seas throughout the tropics. It feeds largely on shellfish, crushing shells with its horny, beak-like jaws, that resemble those of a hawk's, hence, its name. Endangered due to commercial over-exploitation for the decorative scutes on its shell, and for its meat and eggs. The Hawksbill turtle does occasionally nest on Singapore's beaches, along the Singapore Straits. Divers have also reported encountering this animal around the southern islands like Pulau Hantu.

ESTUARINE CROCODILE Crocodylus porosus
The largest of all living reptiles, estuarine crocodiles, or "salties" can grow over 40 feet long, and are found throughout the tropical Indo-west Pacific, including Singapore. Mangrove-lined estuaries like those along Singapore's northern shore seem to be preferred habitats. Crocodiles used to be common here, but they were hunted for their quality leather, and for their unpleasant tendency to eat people. Although considered endangered, there are still many farms that specialize in breeding crocodiles for their commercially valuable leather.

Terrestrial Mammals

LEOPARD CAT Prionailurus bengalensis
The animal in the picture is a victim of a hit-and-run accident. Found along Mandai Road near the Bukit Timah Expressway on 11 June 2001, he was only the second example of this wild cat recorded from Singapore for the past decade. The other was found on Pulau Ubin in 1997. The attractive black spots and bars on the coat of the leopard cat distinguish it from feral domestic cats. This highly secretive animal is largely nocturnal. Under the cover of darkness, it hunts small animals like rats, birds, lizards and large insects. The leopard cat lives in forest, scrubland and plantations.

SUNDA PANGOLIN Manis javanica
The scales on this reptilian-looking mammal are actually made of fused hairs. The pangolin is largely nocturnal. It feeds mainly on ants and termites, which it licks up with its long, sticky tongue. For this, it is also called the 'scaly ant-eater'. This species occurs throughout Southeast Asia but is seldom seen in Singapore. It lives in forests, scrubland and plantations. The pangolin is often hunted for food, but loss of habitat seems to be the main reason for its rarity here. The road accident victim pictured here was found along Jalan Bahar in November 2001.

WILD PIG Sus scrofa
Thought to be extinct in Singapore since the 1050's, the wild pig is making a comeback in Singapore. It was rediscovered on Pulau Tekong in 1988, where individuals are believed to have swum over from Johor. Today, wild pigs are also found on Pulau Ubin (like Priscilla pictured here), and even in Changi on Singapore Island. These animals are omnivorous and are at home in forest, mangrove, scrubland and plantations.

LESSER MOUSEDEER Tragulus javanicus
About the size of a rabbit, this shy and nocturnal mammal inhabits the forest floor where it forages for fallen fruits. It still occurs in Singapore, but is confined to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment area.

This small flying squirrel was first recorded in Singapore in 1996. So far, it is known only from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This species is active at night and spends the day sleeping in holes made into the trunks of large rainforest trees. It apparently feeds on fruits and insects.

This diurnal tree-dwelling creature is distinguished from other Singapore squirrels by its large size and pale coloration. It eats fruits as well as insects. The cream-colored giant squirrel has the distinction of being named by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. In Singapore, it is presently known only in the Nee Soon swamp-forest. Estimates of the population there vary from two to ten.

SLOW LORIS Nycticebus coucang
This animal is related to monkeys and apes. It lives in trees and is active at night. Although it feeds on fruits, it also eats eggs, insects and other small animals. Despite its name and sluggish appearance, this charming-looking creature can move with lightning speed to snatch animal prey or inflict a sharp and painful nip to anyone who may be tempted to pick it up for a cuddle. The slow loris is rare in Singapore, and appears to be confined to forested areas.

BANDED LEAF MONKEY Presbytis femoralis
The herbivorous Banded Leaf Monkey occurs in the Malay Peninsular, Borneo and Sumatra. Apart from the Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis), this is the only other species of monkey still found in Singapore, where less than 30 individuals are apparently left. They are restricted to the forest in central Singapore.

DUGONG Dugong dugon
Although it is hard to imagine, sightings of this sea-mammal probably gave rise to the legends of mermaids. Dugongs (also called sea-cows) are found in shallow seas throughout the tropical Indo-west Pacific. Around Singapore, dead or stranded individuals were occasionally reported in the Johor Straits, around Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong and Changi, where beds of sea-grass abound (sea-grass being a staple in the diet of dugongs). In the past, dugongs were hunted for food, but today, their decline appears to be caused more by drowning in fishing nets, and from injuries caused by motorboat propellers, and pollution.

Spot the animals and plants: 1 - White-bellied sea eagle; 2 - Flying fox; 3 - Flying dragon; 4 - Coconut palm; 5 - Malayan colugo; 6 - Parakeet; 7 - Orchid plant; 8 - Plantain squirrel; 9 - Terentang (forest tree); 10 - Common palm civet; 11 - Long-tailed macaque; 12 - Butterfly; 13 - Pandan plant; 14 - Simpoh ayer plant; 15 - Bracket fungus; 16 - Oriental whipsnake; 17 - Mahang (ant plant); 18 - Malayan pangolin; 19 - Black-crowned night heron; 20 - Kingfisher; 21 - White-breasted waterhen; 22 - Tree-climbing crab; 23 - Small-clawed otter; 24 - Monitor lizard; 25 - Trilobite larva; 26 - Frog; 27 - Leaf of Terentang; 28 - Snail; 29 - Sea slater; 30 - Mudskipper; 31 - Archer fish; 32 - Octopus; 33 - Sea anemone; 34 - Leaves and flowers of Keruing (forest tree); 35 - Millipede; 36 - Forest ant.

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