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Foxes that Fly and Sea Turtles that Nest on Land

by Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Today is World Sea Turtle Day (16 June 2020). As we celebrate Sea Turtles, we remember the magical and fortuitous event which took place at East Coast beach of Singapore just weeks ago on World Turtle Day (23 May 2020). A critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) came ashore to nest!

The tapered head and beak-like jaw of the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) are adaptations for it to forage in coral reefs to feed on sponges. Tragically, most sea turtles will ingest plastic in some form during their lifetime. We must keep our oceans and sea shores free of marine litter! PHOTO: Kevin Li (IG: @lkevyn)

Nesting in Broad Daylight

To the amazement of the few out exercising at East Coast Park beach during the COVID-19 lockdown, this Hawksbill Sea Turtle dug into the sand and laid her eggs in broad daylight before safely heading back to sea.

The closed beaches, off-limits to humans for their own good, meant more space, peace and quiet for our native wildlife to do their thing.

Sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Hatchlings will return to their natal beaches to lay eggs. However, sea turtles have to compete with humans to find suitable undisturbed beaches to nest on. In Singapore, excessive bright lighting along our beaches discourage nesting and cause hatchlings to wander inland to die.
PHOTO: Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) by Kevin Li (IG: @lkevyn)

Flying Foxes Galore

Not long after, another rare phenomenon took place serendipitously on World Environment Day (5 June 2020) – a large colony of about three hundred Flying Foxes (Pteropus sp.) flew into the rainforest of our Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Wow! Are those birds? Are they drones? Nope, just ‘foxes’ that fly! – Flying Fox (Pteropus sp.).
PHOTO: Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Biggest Bats

With faces that resemble foxes and with a wingspan of about one metre, they are among the biggest bats in the world.

These Flying Foxes (Pteropus sp.) are members of a large colony which has come to roost in a tall tree in the rainforest on the fringe of Seletar Reservoir Park. As in the recent case of the Openbill Storks who had migrated to Singapore, it is likely that these mega-bats had been forced to leave their original home site in a neighbouring country due to disturbance of the colony, destruction of their habitat, or a lack of food sources. Unfortunately, it is currently not the fruiting or flowering season here in Singapore’s forests, which will make foraging difficult for these amazing flying mammals.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sabrina Jabbar, who first sighted them on 5 June 2020.

Mega-bats Under Threat

Flying Foxes are found in parts of Asia, Africa, Australia and some oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They can fly long distances to forage for food. In Singapore, resident colonies of the native Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus) have long been extirpated. Many species of Flying Foxes are threatened by hunting, habitat loss and deforestation.

An unprecedented wild sighting in Singapore! A large colony of about 300 Flying Foxes (Pteropus sp.) circling above their tree top roost in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
GIF: Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Time to Turn the Tide for Nature

As we witness more of such phenomenon, and with one million species believed to be facing extinction, will our children and our children’s children be able to see nature’s wonders as we now still have the privilege to enjoy?

If we all act decisively now, there is still time to turn the tide for Nature and ourselves!

“The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable, all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature.

It is time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet. This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.”

THE UNITED Nations
The endangered Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has serrated jaws adapted for feeding on sea grasses and algae. As they forage, they maintain the health of sea grass beds which provide nursery grounds for marine life, and which are the only feeding grounds of the endangered Dugong (Dugong dugon). Sea grasses were once common here up to the 1960s, with extensive meadows found off the eastern coast of Singapore and its offshore islands. The most damaging impact to sea grasses is total destruction due to land reclamation. We can help to conserve sea grass by not polluting or stepping on seagrass!
PHOTO: Kevin Li (IG: @lkevyn)

Turtle Hatchery

To help save Singapore’s population of sea turtles, a protected turtle hatchery located in Sisters’ Islands Marine Park was launched in September 2018.

What can you do? To contribute to turtle conservation,  volunteer with the ‘Biodiversity Beach Patrol’ by NParks to patrol beaches at night during the nesting season.

China removes pangolin scales from traditional medicine list

A glimmer of hope for the pangolin as authorities in mainland China make a momentous decision

The critically endangered Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) is native to Singapore.
PHOTO: Nicholas Yeo

China has delisted pangolin scales from an official list of ingredients used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), raising the level of protection of the critically endangered mammal.

The news – first reported in the China Health Times in Mandarin – was later picked up by the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN), and Global Times, a hawkish tabloid known for nationalistic commentaries.

Cicada Tree Eco-Place has been rallying to Save the Pangolin since 2010. Cicada Tree Eco-Place’s very first fundraiser was a bold initiative to raise funds for a dedicated researcher to work with TRAFFIC on the illegal trade in pangolin.

Reports indicated that the 2020 edition of Chinese Pharmacopoeia aims to curb use of pangolin scales, with authorities threatening imprisonment of up to 10 years for the hunting, killing and smuggling of the animals.

Apart from the use of its keratin scales for traditional folk treatments, pangolin meat is also consumed as a delicacy by a burgeoning Chinese middle class.

There are eight species of pangolins and all are under threat due to large-scale illegal hunting across Asia and Africa.

At least a million have been killed and sold over the past decade and half, according to CITES. The massive bloodbath was documented in a National Geographic report.

Conservationists have been fighting for decades to protect the scaly mammal, and momentum has also been building within China – activists there recently released a lone pangolin seized from poachers back into the wild, vowing that more would be done.

Chinese authorities have now moved to grant Class 1 Protections to three species, which include the Chinese pangolin (Manis
pentadactyla
), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata).

“This is a good start … but this is not good enough. We will release a lot more soon.”

Dr Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Fund

Global wildlife regulator Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – of which China is a party – has banned international commercial trade of pangolin in a bid to protect the animal.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the native Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), as critically endangered.

Pangolins were a suspected host for COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2), wrote scientists Lam, et al. (2020) in a report published in the “Nature” journal.

Their research — fast-tracked into publication in March to aid epidemiological research and the search for a vaccine or cure — identified cousins of COVID-19 or “SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China”.

The researchers conclude: “pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission“.

STOP PRESS

Learn more about the illegal wildlife trade and how it impacts the precious, delicate ecosystems in our world:

Shepherd, C. (2020). Monitor and the Wildlife Trade. The Green Gazette. Retrieved from: http://www.thegreengazette.ca/monitor-and-the-wildlife-trade/

Alberts, E. C. (2020) Banned: No more pangolin scales in traditional medicine, China declares. Mongabay. 
Retrieved from: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/06/banned-no-more-pangolin-scales-in-traditional-medicine-china-declares/

Standaert, M. (2020). China raises protection for pangolins by removing scales from medicine list. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/09/china-protect-pangolins-removing-scales-medicine-list-aoe

Hard Talk with Tiger Biologist, Dr Kae Kawanishi on Covid-19 Lessons

Dr Kae Kawanishi delivering keynote speech at ‘Save the Malayan Tiger’ fundraising dinner organised by Cicada Tree Eco-Place on 27 Sep 2014 at Hortpark, Singapore. (Learn more about our campaign and fundraiser to Save the Malayan Tiger)

Interview by Cicada Tree Eco-Place

We hear from Dr Kae Kawanishi (Tiger Biologist, General Manager and Head of Conservation, MYCAT) on takeaway lessons from the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic crisis and human impact on wild nature:

Q: What is your take on life in the time of COVID-19?

Dr Kae: “We live in an extraordinary time in human history where major events on a global scale seem to not only accelerate in frequency but also grow in scale and impacts. COVID-19 is one of them but there will be other zoonotic diseases as interfaces/interactions between humans and wild spaces/wildlife increase. This global pandemic is a once or twice in a lifetime stress-test for people, companies, and nations.”

Q: What do you think brought this about, and how do you think we will fare in this crisis?

Dr Kae: “In my opinion, much of human suffering in general is brought about by the inequality of wealth, inefficient distribution of resources, and weak governance. This in turn, usually has huge implications on wild nature. This weakness in our society came to light in this stress-test. I don’t think that COVID-19 has changed the fundamental flaws in the current capitalism or consumerism, but the pandemic has shaken everyone and I am optimistic about the resilience of nature and humans’ ability to learn to be better or cope with the stress.”

Q: What do you think are some of the lessons we could learn from Covid-19?

“I hope one of the takeaway lessons is about humility. Humans are not that special, and our lives too are at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Growing up in Japan, I was constantly reminded of our relative insignificance by the sometimes violent nature of our planet. Over the millennia, the forces of nature, be they earthquakes, landslides or tsunamis, and beautiful and bountiful blessings of the seas and mountains have shaped Japanese’ psyche.”

Q: How do you think this unprecedented event will impact our future survival and the survival of wildlife including the Malayan Tiger?

Dr Kae: “The extreme weather patterns, severity and frequencies of mega natural disasters, and the loss of biodiversity are all inter-connected. In its geological history, the earth has seen much more violent episodes of these beyond our imagination. Mass-extinction happened five times in the past and we are in the midst of the 6th mass-extinction. The 6th is unique in our perspective because we are the cause, but to the earth, every one of them is a unique event. The tiger may go soon because it competes with humans for the need for large forests. But COVID-19 reminds us that we are not that special. The human may be one of 1 million species expected to be gone if we don’t learn to promote co-existence.

The iconic Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) is a sub-species unique only to the Malay Peninsula and used to roam the rainforests of Singapore. It is now locally extinct. In Peninsular Malaysia, more than 300 tigers were tragically lost in the last decade. There is no crisis greater than tiger extinction in Malaysia’s nature conservation history.
If urgent action is not taken to save this critically endangered species, the last 200 wild Malayan Tigers will be gone forever. Photo: MYCAT

Q:  What do you think is needed to save nature and thereby save ourselves?

Dr Kae: “The frequencies and scale of the mega global events getting closer and bigger indicate that there isn’t much time left to start making significant changes. I do know that change is happening, but not fast and big enough because world leaders are often sidetracked with other agendas that usually promote competition instead.”

Q: What lesson can you share about human dependence on nature and our treatment of nature?

Dr Kae: “The second important lesson may be about our essential needs. Knowing what it is that we can live without help simplifies our lives. The Japanese phrase taruoshiru means ‘to know one has enough’ or ‘to be content with what one has’. I learned about life’s essentials during my field research. In a very practical sense, this was because I could only carry 15kg on my back. That’s all I had in the forest for weeks. But beyond the daily maintenance needs, the fieldwork in the wilderness distilled my life needs to a very few essentials, and the wild nature was one of them. I’ve had countless moments of communion with her and still do. She does not teach anything. She just is.”


The Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) is a sub-species unique only to the Malay Peninsula and used to roam the rainforests of Singapore. Tragically, Malayan Tigers have been hunted to the verge of extinction and now number less than 200 in the jungles of Peninsular Malaysia.

Save the Malayan Tiger – CAT Walks 2020

Due to Covid-19, all CAT Walks are currently on hold till further notice. To find out more about CAT Walks and to support MYCAT, please visit the this link: https://www.citizenactionfortigers.my/

Thank you, take care and stay safe,
Cicada Tree Eco-Place

World Bee Day 2020 – Where will we all be without the busy bees?

By bringing pollen from flower to flower, bees directly contribute to the production of fruits, nuts and seeds. The decline of bees and other pollinators impact our well-being and the well-being of the environment. To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the UN designated 20 May as World Bee Day. Photo by Teresa Teo Guttensohn at Pangsua Woodlands along The Rail Corridor, May 2020.

by Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Today, 20 May is World Bee Day. Small, hardworking and often forgotten in urbanised Singapore, we forget that our well-being depends upon the existence of bees.

The humble bee and other pollinators like butterflies, birds and nectar bats are under threat from human activities and are on an alarming decline worldwide.

The decline of bees affects us all and it is critical to halt the loss of pollinators and biodiversity. To do so, we must protect the last of our wilderness areas and ecosystems.

“Pollination is fundamental for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity.”

United Nations

How you can help to protect our wild bees:

  1. Flowers for bees – plant different native plants which flower at different times of the year.
  2. Go natural – avoid chemical pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in your gardens. Use environmentally friendlier methods and sprays. Protect wild bee habitats, colonies and hives where possible.
  3. Protect and conserve forests and other natural ecosystems which are crucial habitats and food sources of bees.
  4. Raise and share awareness on the importance of bees.

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