Sunday, 25 October 2015

the sixth great extinction?

So some of you might have heard about the sixth great extinction. Some of you might not have. For the benefit of those who haven't, the sixth great extinction is a global event where many species of animals on the Earth die out, and, well, become extinct. It has happened before (5 times to be precise, that's why this is called the sixth), and each time it happened, the Earth took several million years to recover it's original biodiversity.

Then, some of you might ask: is this really happening?

I don't know for sure. But what I do know is that many species of animals are threatened by extinction right now. The snow leopards, the puffins and the bluefin tuna are some animals that have had their numbers drastically reduced most likely as a result of human activities. Don't forget the animals that have gone extinct either. The passenger pigeon, one of the world's most abundant birds, went extinct by the 1900s due to overhunting and habitat loss. If you think about it, it's rather scary. One of the most abundant bird species in the world, driven to extinction because of humans. Are we going to continue on our destructive path?

I hope not.

What I do hope for, however, is a collective effort to help save the animals (or the biodiversity) of the earth before it is too late, so that future generations have the opportunity to discover the beauty and magnificence of the animal world.

Drake, N., 2015, 'Will Humans Survive the Sixth Great Extinction?', National Geographic, 23 June, viewed 25 October 2015,

Sunday, 18 October 2015

does livestock benefit or harm snow leopards?

A study by Sharma, R.K., Bhatnagar, Y.V. and Mishra, C. in 2015 determined whether the presence of livestock provides snow leopards alternative prey that helped them survive despite the increasing loss of habitat and of prey. The study made use of camera traps placed in locations where snow leopards were very likely to pass through to obtain data.

The results of the study showed that snow leopards stayed around more in an area with a greater density of wild prey. In areas where there was an increase in livestock populations, there was a subsequent decrease in populations of wild prey. As such, snow leopards tend to stay away from those locations. Snow leopards also tend to stay away from areas where they know that dogs are being used to herd livestock.

After looking through the study, I feel that it is possible for modern humans to co-exist with nature. It is possible to maintain a balance between livestock and wild prey density - one of the results showed that a certain amount of livestock can result in the highest density of wild prey. Perhaps with sustainable consumption in the (near) future, livestock density can be kept at the optimal level for wild prey populations to remain healthy. This can undoubtedly benefit snow leopards, especially if they depend more on wild prey than livestock for food.

Picture of snow leopard taken by Dave Pape, obtained from Wikimedia Commons
It can be said that livestock harm snow leopards, as the farming of livestock decreases the number and size of habitats it has to live in and hunt for prey. On the other hand, livestock can provide a source of food for snow leopards, when dogs are absent and when there is a lack of prey for the snow leopards to hunt in the wild. Hence, whether livestock benefit or harm snow leopards depends on how the farming of livestock has affected the landscape and habitat of the snow leopards.

Study discussed in the post:
Sharma, R.K., Bhatnagar, Y.V. & Mishra, C., 2015, Do Livestock Benefit or Harm Snow Leopards?, Biological Conservation, vol. 190, pp. 8-13, ScienceDirect database. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2015.04.026

Monday, 12 October 2015

too cute

Animal comic by Simpsons Illustrator Liz Climo, picture taken from 

Animal comics can brighten up my day! I love how this comic combines both irony and the element of surprise. Penguins have densely packed feathers that protect them from the cold, yet in this adorable comic, they wear leg warmers for humans to keep themselves warm. 

Animal comics like this, although silly at times, can help to make the public more interested in animals, and sometimes, animal conservation. So don't underestimate the power of a cute and good comic strip! Read something light and humourous to relax and unwind. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

caw caw crow

One might think that crows are a nuisance and a bad omen. That is not entirely wrong, as crows can become pests and cause many problems in cities. They can rifle through trash, pick on leftover food from outdoor eateries and harass people. The house crows, brought into Singapore to deal with the rat problem, have become pests themselves. The quote 'you are what you eat' couldn't be applied any more accurately here. One amazing thing that has happened as a result of the increase in crow populations is the proliferation of the Asian koel. The Asian koel has a high keening call that sounds like its own name. You probably would have been woken up by one in the morning before.

Picture of a house crow taken by Dhruvaraj S obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Picture of an Asian koel taken by Gladson Machado obtained from Wikimedia Commons
Despite all the problems that crows bring about, they are actually important to the environment. Crows actually eat many insects that farmers consider pests, and can be used to control pest populations.

Crows are interesting, in that they are able to recognise faces. Crows respond negatively to faces that they think are dangerous, or bring about death. Upon seeing faces they have linked to danger, a group of crows will collectively harass the individual. On the other hand, crows do not harass people whom they believe will not harm them. Studies have shown that crows can recognise their dead. This ability could be due to the high intelligence of the crow. Another study has shown that crows could have the intelligence of a seven year-old human child. The study tested six crows' ability to solve problem and understand the mechanics of water displacement. The results had shown that the crows knew how water can be displaced, which is a pleasant surprise. 

I'd read many articles that discussed the intelligence of crows, but I had never saw for my own eyes (through a video) how smart crows can actually be. It would be cool if crows can be taught to carry out simple activities, like how dogs can be taught to fetch and do certain tricks. Perhaps then the negative impressions that people have on crows could be changed.

Information taken from:
'Crows are as intelligent as CHILDREN: Study reveals birds are as clever as a seven-year-old human',
'The Birds That Fear Death', by Melissa Hogenboom, BBC Earth
Singapore Birds Blog, under the 'Crows' column

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

wildlife in southeast asia

So I went to Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) for my ENV1101 field trip on 19 September. It was my second time at the museum, yet the specimens on display are still as interesting as they were on my first visit to the museum. It is a feast for the eyes with the multitude of animal specimens on display.

Panel showcasing insects that undergo complete metamorphosis

The very first thing that greets visitors is a model of the Rafflesia, a foul-smelling parasitic flower that can be found in Southeast Asia. The next plant model along the 'path' in the museum is the titan arum, another foul-smelling parasitic plant that is found in Sumatra. The displays of frogs, birds, insects, marine animals and mammals mostly contain species of animals that come from Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and even Singapore. A particular trend is followed by the specimens on display in LKCNHM: they mostly come from Southeast Asia.

Model of an inflorescence of titan arum at LKCNHM
LKCNHM showcases only a fraction of Southeast Asia's biodiversity. The sheer amount of different species that can be found in Southeast Asia is both amazing and terrifying at the same time. It is amazing for this region to contain so many different species of animals and that these animal species have found a niche and a home here while coexisting with each other. This diversity then makes Southeast Asia as one of the best areas for conducting research as well as eco-tourism. However, it also means that quite a few species of animals could go extinct globally if environmental destruction is not prevented or curbed. As such, it is vital that measures be put in place to protect the wildlife in the region.

Yet, Southeast Asia is facing a high rate of habitat loss due to deforestation (Sodhi et al., 2010). If the rate of habitat loss does not slow down or stop, many species endemic to Southeast Asia could be threatened and can go extinct. If the loss of habitats stops now, it might be possible for the ecosystem to adapt, and fewer species would be under threat. For species that face a threat of dying out, conservations and species recovery efforts can help to bring the population back to a healthy state.

Conservation projects like Operation Groundswell in Southeast Asia can help improve the situation for the local biodiversity. Along with greater enforcement on anti-deforestation policies, and greater cooperation between various parties, the remaining forests in Southeast Asia can hopefully provide a home for many species of animals.

Sodhi, N.S., Posa, M.R.C., Tien, M.L., Bickford, D., Lian, P.K., Brook, B.W., 2010, 'The state and conservation of Southeast Asian biodiversity', Biodiversity Conservation, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 317-328. Springer database. doi: 10.1007/s10531-009-9607-5

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

conservation strategies and action plans

Many conservation policies have been put up by governments and organizations alike in the face of the sixth mass extinction event. One such conservation plan is 'The UK Biodiversity Action Plan', which aims to help endangered species or habitats recover. It was mentioned in a paper, 'Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of conservation: The UK Biodiversity Action Plan' by Laycock, et al. (2009) that more has been spent on helping bird and mammal species to recover, and that the Species Action Plans (SAP) under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan that while the SAPs were generally effective, almost one out of ten of these plans did not manage to meet the target objectives set out.

Reading that more attention was focused on bird and mammal species recovery efforts struck a chord with me. Birds and mammals are what many people can see and interact with every day, and so, they naturally focus their attention on these animals. Zoos often showcase eye-catching and popular animals like tigers, elephants and rhinos. Few insect species are exhibited, and thus, visitors aren't exposed to the variety of insects, amphibians and marine species. Unless one decides to find out information about these lesser known animals by himself or herself, or visit a museum, there are very few campaigns aimed to protect and conserve these species. As a result, other classes of animals are given less attention, even though they could be just as important to the ecosystem.

While it is stated that birds and mammals generally have more important roles in the ecosystem than other animals, I feel that in an effort to conserve biodiversity, more could be done for the other species. Each species has their own value to the environment and failing to help their populations remain at a healthy level could be detrimental as the more important species may be dependent on them for food. In a way, conserving more well-known species can have a ripple effect on populations on their prey, which could include the lesser known species of animals. However, it is also important to raise awareness on the other species so that the public can have a greater understanding of the different roles of different organisms in the environment. This understanding can then drive conservation efforts, making future conservation action plans more effective. The effectiveness of conservation plans also depends on the resources put into realising the plan. If too many resources are allocated for the plan, and the species recovery or conservation results aren't on target, then the resources put into the plan would have been wasted. To prevent wastage of resources, proper analysis have to be made, and conservationists have to ensure that they have sufficient information on the species before they proceed with the physical recovery actions.

All in all, conservation of biodiversity have become more well known as the plight of animals in areas where environment degradation is taking place have been made known to the public. Hopefully, many of the world's animals can continue to live on, and this will not be what the future generations understand of nature.

Scientific paper mentioned:
Laycock, H., Moran, D., Smart, J., Raffaelli, D. & White, P., 2009, 'Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of conservation: The UK Biodiversity Action Plan', Biological Conservation, vol. 142, no. 12, pp. 3120-3127, sciencedirect database. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2009.08.010

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Does Singapore protect her wildlife?

So I was thinking about how Singapore has more wildlife than one would expect for a small, urbanised island one day, and this question (up there, the title of this post) popped into my mind. I went on to research and find more information about the conservation efforts in Singapore, and the conservation plans and projects we have far exceeded my expectations.

For starters, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) was launched by National Parks Board (NParks) in 2009. The plan, managed by National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), provides a guideline as to how conservation activities could be carried out in Singapore as well as to promote conservation of plant and animal wildlife on the island. Another action plan - the Nature Conservation Masterplan (NCMP), lay out what Singapore is going to do for biodiversity conservation in the next half of the decade. The NCMP includes biodiversity and wildlife research, community outreach and education, conservation programmes and the development of green areas in Singapore.Under these national policies, plans for recovery of critically endangered species that are native to Singapore have been put in place.

The Singapore Ginger, Zingiber Singapurense, one of the native plants of Singapore
Image by Jana Leong-Škorničková via My Green Space, NParks 

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) have managed and funded many conservation projects in Singapore. Some projects conducted by WRS are studies on Singapore's pangolins, leopard cats and the Banded Leaf Monkey. Awareness programmes informing the public about the illegal wildlife trade and the harm it is doing to the environment are also carried out by WRS.

A Pangolin
Image via Wikimedia Commons

These environmental policies and programmes, while great, may not be heard or seen by many Singaporeans. Those who have read about these policies can be considered the 'minority', as many Singaporeans are unaware of the wildlife that has made Singapore their home. While this is slowly changing with outreach efforts like guided walks conducted by Naked Hermit Crabs, Herpetological Society of Singapore and even Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) Drongos in nature parks, the people signing up to these events often are caught up in Singapore's nature scene.

Perhaps as more environmental agencies spring up, environmental issues will become better known to the public and better understood. With better understanding, the public is likely to see the significance of biodiversity and of the ecosystem, and hence the importance of conservation even in an area as small as Singapore.

References obtained from:
NParks, "Our National Plan for Conservation",
NParks, "Nature Conservation Masterplan consolidates Singapore's biodiversity conservation efforts", 27 Jun 2015,
NParks, "Nature Conservation Masterplan", 27 Jun 2015,
The Straits Times, "September school holidays: sign up for 'green' environmental events this week", Audrey Tan, published 7 Sep 2015,
Wildlife Reserves Singapore, "Conservation Projects",