The Straits Times: Private lives in public

Flora and fauna including rare finds in Singapore’s rainforests are the subject of a new book, The Straits Times reports.

Private lives in public

Singapore’s rainforests are home to a rich array of plants and animals, including the prized Tongkat Ali aphrodisiac.

A new book by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore highlights these treasures, many of which even the most avid visitor to nature parks may not have set eyes on.

The new book, Private Lives: An Expose Of Singapore’s Rainforests, follows on the heels of three other popular nature books by the museum at the university’s Faculty of Science on seashores, mangroves and freshwater.

The latest book, which took a year to put together, is a treasure trove of stunning photographs and interesting nuggets of information. It was the combined effort of 19 writers – naturalists and scientists, four of whom were editors.

One of the editors, head of the museum’s education unit Wang Luan Keng, says: ‘Our aim is to showcase the country’s rich biodiversity which Singaporeans may not know of. It’s so rich, in fact, that we’re still finding out how much we don’t know.’

Singapore’s biodiversity as a whole remains so abundant that more than 100 species completely new to science have been found here in recent years. These range from new species of moss to fishes, spiders, shrimps and barnacles.

The Republic is home to more than 40,000 native species of flora and fauna which have survived despite extensive habitat destruction.

Museum director Professor Peter Ng says: ‘While it is somewhat sad to think about what we have lost, the fact remains that we still have much to study, conserve and be proud of. This book offers interesting insights into the wonderful plants and animals still surviving, thriving and surprising us in our rainforests.’

Ambassador-At-Large of Singapore Professor Tommy Koh, writing in the foreword, noted how the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity – a tool to monitor, assess and manage the status of biodiversity in urban areas – had been adopted by the conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya in 2010.

‘The rapid loss of the world’s biodiversity and the degradation of our ecosystems will ultimately pose a threat to life on earth,’ he wrote. ‘Singapore has pioneered the idea that cities can play a role in the conservation of the world’s biodiversity.’

Apart from the comprehensive look at animal and plant life, the book also touches on issues relevant here, such as the conflicts of conserving biodiversity on a small and highly urbanised island.

One chapter looks at the natural products from the forest and how it is a vital store of medicine and food, while another highlights some rarely seen forest denizens which come to life at night.

It also pays tribute to one of Singapore’s long-standing ‘eco-warriors’, botanist Wee Yeow Chin. The former Nature Society (Singapore) president ‘has been a tireless and feisty fighter for what he believes in, always ready to roll up his shirt- sleeves and engage in full-on fisticuffs if need be’.

Among his many achievements, the book noted how he was one of the first local botanists to sound the alarm when Bukit Timah Nature Reserve began drying out in the 1970s and 1980s.

Quarrying, road and housing developments had begun to encroach, and lightning strikes started puncturing the forest canopy. He campaigned for the halt of quarrying, the reforested buffer zones and extensions to the reserve that became a reality in the 1990s, it said.

The book project was completed with a $40,000 grant by ExxonMobil. It is on sale at bookshops at a recommended retail price of $22 for the paperback copy and $35 for the hardcover version.

Proceeds from the sale of the books go towards more nature publications and biodiversity projects, and next in line is a book exploring Singapore’s marine life.

Wonder plants: Strange and interesting plants found in Singapore’s primary forests include the Tongkat Ali (right), which is traditionally used to reduce fever. It has become well-known for its alleged aphrodisiac properties, proven to work on laboratory rats.

The rainforest provides a rich array of food such as flowers to its animals, such as the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (right), seen here feasting on fruit. A common forest species that can be found in gardens, it flies in flocks in search of fruits.

The spotted wood owl (right), which enjoys meatier prey, is known for its loud barking call. This forest species is also doing well in mature parks and has bred successfully in places such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Eye see you: Butterflies and moths are good indicators of plant biodiversity in Singapore’s forests, as many are highly dependent on the plants found mainly in nature reserves here during their early stages.

Of the more than 300 species of butterflies found here, including the Common Tree Nymph butterfly (above,right), over 60 per cent are known only from the forested areas.

The striking caterpillar (right) of the Oleander Hawk Moth has a trick to prevent itself from ending up as someone’s dinner. It has large fake eyes on its body to trick would-be predators into believing that it is larger and more ferocious than it actually is.

Jewel of the jungle: Singapore is home to a rich array of flora and fauna, many of which have yet to be named or discovered. Among them is this jewel-toned tiger beetle (right) in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

New heights: The Sunda Colugo (right), known as the flying lemur, is a shy, nocturnal animal that is often unseen high in the treetops.

Once thought to be destined for extinction, studies estimate that there are now more than 3,000 of them in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Area.

Another animal once thought to be extinct here is the Leopard Cat (right). It has been spotted recently in the Western and Central catchment areas, Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

Tuft luck: Nymph or young of a plant-hopper, which has yet to be identified. The iridescent tuft on the back end of the animal (right) found in Lower Pierce Reservoir is composed of wax filaments and used as a form of camouflage.

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