WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE HOSTS FIRST SOUTHEAST ASIAN ANIMAL ENRICHMENT AND TRAINING WORKSHOP

Growie and Roni the giraffes make use of their long dextrous tongues to get at the carrot sticks packed in tube feeders made from PVC pipes.

Singapore, 4 October 2010 – Wildlife Reserves Singapore is holding the first Southeast Asian workshop to teach zoo and wildlife rescue staff in the region the best practices in animal enrichment and training, which actively promotes the expression of healthy and normal behaviours of wild animals in captivity. This is part of WRS’ commitment to raising wildlife captive care standards in the region, especially as we observe World Animal Day on 4 October, and remember 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.

Animals in their natural environment carry out a range of activities for their survival in the wild. For example, they need to secure food and shelter, as well as avoid predators, and they pick up the necessary skills from the moment they are born. Those living in captivity at wildlife parks and zoos possess the same instincts and need to express their natural behaviours. However, without the challenges posed by nature, these instincts can express themselves in undesirable and even deleterious behaviours like continuous pacing and over-grooming.

“Even the best captive environment can never truly replicate an animal’s natural surroundings. Animal behavioural management, which involves environmental enrichment, positive reinforcement training techniques and problem-solving processes, has proven effective in keeping captive animals in good physical and psychological health,” said Ms Fanny Lai, WRS’ Group CEO. “We hope this first animal enrichment and training workshop hosted by WRS provides a platform for those passionate about wildlife and wildlife conservation to exchange ideas and share experiences in a bid to improve the management of captive animals and enhance animal welfare.”

The four-day workshop which begins today is held in partnership with animal behaviour consulting firm Active Environments and non-profit corporation The Shape of Enrichment. It is specifically designed for animal care givers and is open to zookeepers, aquarists, managers, supervisors, curators and veterinarians from the Southeast Asian and Australasian region. It will include theoretical and practical training on topics such as enrichment and training planning processes, safety considerations, animal demonstrations, as well as hands-on exercises such as fabrication of animal enrichment devices.

WRS, which operates award-winning wildlife parks including Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, Singapore Zoo, and the upcoming River Safari, places great emphasis on animal enrichment activities. On average, over 90 species of animals in Singapore Zoo receive three sessions of enrichment each week to hone their motor and sensory skills, while increasing their optimal state of well being. These may include exercises such as changing the way their food is presented, or creating a device to stimulate their minds.

For example, spinning feeder balls are used to challenge the Asian short-clawed otters’ dexterity as they try to get to the tasty treats with their nimble fingers. Giraffes, on the other hand, are challenged to retrieve carrots through holes in suspended, large mineral water bottles or PVC pipes. Predatory instincts of reptiles such as the Komodo dragon is drawn out by tossing them a cardboard box filled with dead rats. The ripping of the box to retrieve the rats mimics how they would rip the skin of their prey. The Malayan sun bears are encouraged to explore the environment and use their natural instincts when coconut husks smeared with honey are dangled from the branches in their enclosures. Such exercises encourage exploratory and investigative behaviours.

Ms Gail Laule, one of the founders of Active Environments, said: “Environmental enrichment and positive reinforcement training are essential components of caring for wild animals in captive environments. All zoos should provide the relevant training for its staff, and we are glad that WRS is taking the lead to host such an event in Singapore.”

“We are excited to be part of this inaugural Southeast Asian animal enrichment and training workshop. This event will contribute towards improvements in animal welfare through education and international exchange of enrichment theory and application,” added Ms Valerie Hare, co-founder and workshop coordinator from The Shape of Enrichment.

WRS is expecting an attendance of about 30 participants representing 20 wildlife institutions, including zoos, rescue centres and wildlife parks. Among the participants are representatives from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia, and the Hong Kong Zoo and Ocean Adventure in Philippines. To ensure that institutions with a real need to implement animal enrichment and training practices in their facilities are able to attend this workshop, WRS has provided sponsorship to participants from Free the Bears in Cambodia, Lao Zoo in Laos, and Saigon Zoo in Vietnam.

Bima the Komodo dragon tries to rip apart a cardboard box to get to a treat. Keepers have to ensure the box is safe removing all the staples first.
Indera the Malayan sun bear is enthralled by a sugarcane-stuffed coconut, drizzled with honey.

CRITICALLY-ENDANGERED BANDED LEAF MONKEYS CONTINUE TO BREED IN SINGAPORE

BREAKTHROUGH RESEARCH BY NUS, NPARKS AND WRSCF FINDS NEW EVIDENCE ON POPULATION GROWTH

Singapore, April 10, 2010 – A National University of Singapore (NUS) research team, in collaboration with National Parks Board (NParks) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund (WRSCF), has found breakthrough evidence that the population of banded leaf monkeys, believed to be on the verge of extinction since two decades ago, has been growing in Singapore’s forests. This includes the first-ever observations of breeding for the critically-endangered banded leaf monkeys in Singapore and is especially momentous, as 2010 has been designated International Year of Biodiversity.

Research findings point to significant milestones as the banded leaf monkey is one of only three species of non-human primates native to Singapore. Rare, elusive and threatened by habitat loss, the banded leaf monkey is critically endangered. It is part of Singapore’s natural heritage and has the potential of becoming a flagship species for conservation efforts.

This conservation research project was spearheaded by NUS student Andie Ang Hui Fang since July 2008 under the guidance of Associate Professor Rudolf Meier from the NUS Evolutionary Biology Lab, and assisted by Mirza Rifqi Ismail, an NParks research officer. Assistant Professor Michael Gumert from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) also provided invaluable counsel throughout the project.

WRSCF, through the Ah Meng Memorial Conservation Fund (AMMCF) funded the research and provided equipment support. AMMCF, the first recipient of WRSCF, received $500,000 over a five-year period for conducting academic research and studies pertaining to endangered wildlife. The banded leaf monkey project is the first to receive funding from AMMCF.

The goal of this project is to identify the life history parameters of the banded leaf monkey in Singapore, including its population size, feeding ecology, intra- and inter-specific interactions and threats they are faced with in order to support its conservation efforts.

The research has uncovered important evidence that the population of banded leaf monkeys in Singapore has grown to at least 40 individuals, more than the previous estimates of 10 in the 1980s, and 10-15 in the 1990s. The research has collected first findings on the breeding cycle and species of plants they feed on, some of which are rare and locally endangered.

One particularly encouraging finding is that the females are reproducing successfully with at least one breeding cycle every July and infants observed. The project also used non-invasive sampling techniques to obtain genetic information that have helped to clarify the species’ taxonomic status in comparison with populations of banded leaf monkeys found in Southern Malaysia.

The project will continue with the monitoring of population changes and analysing of the botanical composition of the forest in order to examine the sustainability of the habitat for the monkeys. As part of the plan, a population viability assessment will be carried out and important forest fragments will be identified in the hope of connecting the fragments through reforestation. The information gathered will also be used to develop a management plan for conserving one of the last remaining primate species in Singapore.

Professor Peter Ng, Director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS, said, “As a global university centred in Asia, NUS is well placed to address the myriad of challenges associated with urban city states, sustainable development and conservation. The university has a long history of biodiversity research, its Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research being one of the oldest and most highly regarded natural history museums in the region. Its researchers and affiliated staff from the Department of Biological Sciences are active in modern, often cross-disciplinary, research in many parts of Southeast Asia and they have contributed substantially to our understanding of the region’s biodiversity. In Singapore, NUS researchers work closely with various government agencies to generate baseline information and to ensure that key habitats and species are conserved; and there are also long term plans for monitoring their survival.”

Prof Ng added, “This is the International Year of Biodiversity and NUS is pleased to contribute to global efforts to slow down biodiversity erosion and promote the cause of conservation. The banded leaf monkey project and the suite of conservation projects currently undertaken by NUS researchers and students are important steps toward this long term goal.”

Dr Lena Chan, Deputy Director of National Biodiversity Centre (NParks) said: “The research findings are very exciting. We had thought for a long time that the banded leaf monkey population is on the decline but the findings show the contrary. This shows that with good management our nature reserves do have the potential to reverse population declines for endangered species. It also underscores the importance of safeguarding the reserves and keeping them healthy so that existing native species can continue to thrive.”

“It is most apt that these significant research findings are unveiled this year—the International Year of Biodiversity. Despite Singapore’s highly urbanised environment and land constraints, Singapore remains a safe haven for species that can live in small patches of lowland tropical forest, mangroves, freshwater swamp forest, seagrass beds, mudflats and coral reefs. This has been made possible through the protection of remaining patches of native vegetation and marine ecosystems and this approach has been successful in conserving the remaining biodiversity in a city setting. The banded leaf monkey project is one such effort to protect and conserve our natural heritage,” said Professor Leo Tan, Board of Trustee for WRSCF.

Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a strong advocate of conservation applauded the research efforts: “The biological diversity of our planet faces as great a crisis as our climate system. The loss of biodiversity poses a threat to our health, wealth and the ecosystems which sustain life. This is why we should all do what we can to prevent the extinction of our plant and animal species. The leaf monkey is a symbol of the challenge we face.”

Further details about the banded leaf monkey project will be shared during a public lecture event, to be held at NUS on 16 Apr 2010.
For more information or to up, please visit:
http://newshub.nus.edu.sg/headlines/0410/leaf_21Apr10.php.

Banded Leaf Monkey
Banded Leaf Monkey with baby
Banded Leaf Monkey