Updated: May 25, 2020
Having a love for animals, I have always wanted to play a part in conservation efforts in Singapore. When I found out that the National Biodiversity Centre was offering an internship, I had to apply for it. Then, having no experience in any wildlife activities on my resume, I knew I had to do something about it. I spent my summer holidays volunteering for different conservation efforts such as being a zoology volunteer at the Singapore Zoo. My efforts finally paid off when I was selected to do my final year internship with NParks at the National Biodiversity Centre.
The experience was nothing short of new adventures, learning and fulfilment.
It gave me a peek into the conservation field in Singapore, how different players in the field work together and the amount of tenacity required to persevere in this field.
At NBC, under the Species Recovery Programme, my role was to assist in the conservation action plan for Sunda Leaf Fish (Nandus nebulosus) and Sunda Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang). The Sunda Leaf fish is listed as ‘critically endangered’ in the Singapore Red Data Book. It faces threats such as illegal collection and habitat degradation. I assisted in population surveys to estimate its population density and captive breeding efforts. The Sunda Slow Loris is an extremely elusive mammal. Since not much is known about it in Singapore, the study was to estimate its density, distribution and ecology. Here, my role was to carry out night field surveys.
Having zero knowledge on freshwater organisms and ecology, my learning curve was steep. I had to learn first-hand how to perform environmental assessments which include being able to identify the organisms caught. Though challenging and tiring, it was surprisingly enjoyable. We had to trek through forests in order to reach the streams and trudge in knee-deep waters ‘tray-netting’ the organisms. Being able to immerse in the beauty of nature while working was incredible but of course, not everyone will agree with me, since you definitely end up sweaty, dirty and covered in mud.
Sunda Slow Loris field work had another set of challenges. Due to its nocturnal nature, surveys would start at nightfall. In addition, because of its elusive nature, the probability of seeing a loris is actually very low. A needle in a haystack for sure and if you imagine, going into the forest, twice a week, after office hours and when the loris decides not to show up, yes, it can be very disappointing. And this is the thing with going out into nature, you can never expect anything. Though physically and mentally draining, spotting other animals and learning how to identify them made everything more enriching. When I finally saw my first slow loris on my 15th survey, you can imagine how happy I was. All the fatigue went away and being able to observe such a fragile animal in its natural habitat was unbelievable.
It felt so surreal to observe a wild animal, more so a critically endangered one, in its natural environment.
Being in nature, we must always remember to reduce the amount of disturbance we bring to the environment. Although the organisms were caught to facilitate quantification during surveys, they are always carefully placed back into their environment. Additionally, night vision goggles were used to protect sensitive nocturnal animals from the bright lights of headlamps.
Every single field work brings a new observation/ finding and the uncertainty certainly makes it exciting for sure. What surprised me was that wild animals are just as curious as we are of them. We may see reports and news about our rich biodiversity but seeing it for myself and having experts in the field to guide you, it made the whole experience much more enriching. You never know the amount of biodiversity we have here in Singapore until you experience it for yourself.
- Yu Lin (ex NParks Intern)