Spotted in the wild

A juvenile common palm civet, also known as the musang, hides in a tree near Upper East Coast Road. This native mammal has dark grey fur and a black facial band across its eyes, giving it the appearance of wearing a mask. Civets are shy nocturnal creatures which live in places such as forests, mangroves, parks and even some urban areas. Even though the species has survived urbanisation here, civets still face threats from habitat loss and traffic. If you do spot one, give it some space and report your sighting to the Common Palm Civets Of Singapore Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/singaporecivet/
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Despite having a total land area of only 719.2 sq km and undergoing rapid urbanisation, Singapore surprises with the diversity of its wildlife.

It is home to a wide variety of species, including some which are not commonly seen, such as the lesser false vampire bat and the Raffles' banded langur.

There are an estimated 23,000 to 28,000 species of terrestrial organisms and 12,000 to 17,000 species of marine organisms in Singapore.

"A healthy natural environment enhances our quality of life, improving our overall health and well-being as well as enriching our lives. In addition, wildlife aids in pollination and dispersal of seeds, thereby ensuring the long-term survival of our forests and native plants," said Dr Lena Chan, group director of the National Biodiversity Centre, National Parks Board.

"We are working to develop Singapore into a biophilic city, a city in a garden where nature is a part of our urban environment, where humans live harmoniously alongside wildlife."

The shy creatures of wild Singapore

  • A juvenile common palm civet, also known as the musang, hides in a tree near Upper East Coast Road. This native mammal has dark grey fur and a black facial band across its eyes, giving it the appearance of wearing a mask. Civets are shy nocturnal creatures which live in places such as forests, mangroves, parks and even some urban areas. Even though the species has survived urbanisation here, civets still face threats from habitat loss and traffic. If you do spot one, give it some space and report your sighting to the Common Palm Civets Of Singapore Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/singaporecivet/
  • The Acres wildlife rescue team occasionally receives calls about pangolins that are stranded in urban areas. This animal was found around a residential area near a nature reserve and safely guided back into the forest. The sunda pangolin is a shy and solitary nocturnal animal and considered to be at extremely high risk of extinction in Singapore. Rapid urbanisation has decimated its numbers by destroying its natural habitats.
  • A female Malayan colugo at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve takes off with its baby clinging to its belly. Also known as the Malayan flying lemur, the colugo has large eyes and a pointed muzzle. It also has a grey or reddish-brown body with irregular black bands, and can glide gracefully from tree to tree using the skin membrane that wraps around it.
  • Lesser false vampire bats on Pulau Ubin. They can be identified primarily by their large, rounded ears, which are joined at the base. The bats are known to dwell only on the islands of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. Recent research has shown Pulau Ubin to be a stronghold for the species, with several roosting sites. The species feeds mainly on large insects such as moths and grasshoppers, and sometimes small vertebrates such as lizards.
  • A clownfish peeks out from a giant carpet anemone at Big Sister’s Island. The fish seeks refuge in the anemone, which has harpoon-like stingers on its tentacles called nematocysts that protect the clownfish from predators, while the fish cleans the anemone and provides nutrients for it through its waste. The fish has a special layer of mucus on its skin to protect it from the sting of its host.
  • A Malayan water monitor at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It is the most common monitor lizard among the three found in Singapore, and can grow up to 3m long. It is mostly carnivorous and some even feed on the decaying flesh of dead animals. It can be found in forests, mangrove swamps, and man-made canals.
  • The Raffles' banded langur, also known as the banded leaf monkey, once thrived across the island. Urbanisation has whittled down its population to 60 at most, according to 2010 data. The Raffles' banded langur can grow up to 84cm in length, including its tail. It is about twice the size of the long-tailed macaque, the only other monkey species in Singapore. These monkeys are now found only in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
  • A mullet leaps out of the water at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. In the background are migratory common greenshanks that spend their winter in Singapore. Mullets jump out of the water to avoid predators and to fill the pharyngobranchial organ (an area at the back of the throat) with air. The trapped air is believed to allow the fish to remain active in water of low-oxygen concentrations for about five minutes.
  • One of five reticulated pythons, ranging in length from 1.5m to 2.5m, relocated by Acres on the night of Jan 13. These nocturnal creatures end up in residential areas via drains, in search of small prey such as rats. They are the most common type of snake found here and the longest and heaviest in the python family, growing up to 10m and 113kg. Most found here, however, have been less than 5m.
  • An oriental whip snake moves slowly through branches on Pulau Ubin. Native to Singapore and South-east Asia, it can be found in forests, suburban parks and gardens. The oriental whip snake is mildly venomous, but usually not aggressive. Adults can grow up to 1.9m, are a bright fluorescent green and blend into leaves and branches, while juveniles are yellow or pale brown in colour.
  • The spine-tufted skimmer is a species of dragonfly commonly found in Singapore. This one was spoted by a stream near the Venus Drive nature walk. The males' abdomens are red, while the females' abdomens are varying shades of brown.
  • A common sun skink in the forested area off Venus Drive. They are active during the day on land and like to bask in the sun on forest tracks or tree trunks. They have smooth, scaled skins, small legs and can grow up to 35cm.
  • A golden orb-web spider at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The word 'golden' comes from the perceived colour of their large webs. It is common in forested areas, parks and gardens.
  • Wild boars, a native animal of Singapore, at the junction of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Pasir Ris Farmway 1.
  • A green crested lizard basking in the morning sun at Pulau Ubin. Adult lizards can grow up to 58cm long. While its body colour is usually bright green, it may change to dark brown or grey when threatened. Its numbers have declined in recent years due to its displacement by the changeable lizard, which was introduced to Singapore in the 1980s.
  • A long black sea cucumber at the intertidal area of Sisters' Islands Marine Park. It is common on our Southern shores and is usually about 30-40cm long. Its body colour varies from very dark brown to black. Its body is cylindrical in shape with short tube feet. When threatened, it can eject sticky white threads from its backside to entangle the disturber.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The Straits Times picture desk would like to thank the following for their assistance in this project:

  • National Parks Board
  • Dr Andie Ang
  • Herpetological Society of Singapore
  • Dr Vilma D'Rozario
  • Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres)
  • Ms Xu Weiting and Ms Fung Tze Kwan, from the National University of Singapore Civet Research Team.


This article was first published on March 6, 2017.
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