EXPERTS AIM TO SAVE ONE OF SINGAPORE’S MOST THREATENED UNIQUE SPECIES AT INAUGURAL ROUNDTABLE ON FRESHWATER CRAB CONSERVATION

NParks, NUS, IUCN, and WRS among agencies collaborating to save endemic crabs, including Johora singaporensis which is among the 100 most threatened species in the world.

Singapore, 29 March 2014Johora singaporensis, commonly called the Singapore freshwater crab, is arguably one of the most threatened unique species of Singapore. To discuss ways to develop an overall plan for conservation of this species, experts convened in the inaugural Roundtable on Freshwater Crab Conservation which began with a two-day closed-door panel discussion, and concluded with a public forum on 29 March 2014.

The critically endangered Singapore freshwater crab (Johora singaporensis), is among the 100 most threatened species in the world. Found only in Singapore, it grows up to 3cm across the carapace, or the shell, and up to 5cm with the legs stretched out. It performs an important role in the proper functioning of hill streams by helping in nutrient recycling, and is potentially an indicator of pollution and climate change. PHOTO CREDITS: DANIEL NG
The critically endangered Singapore freshwater crab (Johora singaporensis), is among the 100 most threatened species in the world. Found only in Singapore, it grows up to 3cm across the carapace, or the shell, and up to 5cm with the legs stretched out. It performs an important role in the proper functioning of hill streams by helping in nutrient recycling, and is potentially an
indicator of pollution and climate change. PHOTO CREDITS: DANIEL NG

The four organisations involved are National Parks Board (NParks), National University of Singapore (NUS), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). The inaugural Roundtable on Freshwater Crab Conservation is funded by the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund.

First discovered and described in 1986, the Singapore freshwater crab (Johora singaporensis) is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, and is among the 100 most threatened species in the world. This endemic species, only found in Singapore, grows up to 3cm across the carapace, or the shell, and up to 5cm with the legs stretched out. It performs an important role in the proper functioning of hill streams by helping in nutrient recycling, and is potentially an indicator of pollution and climate change.

The critically endangered Singapore freshwater crab (Johora singaporensis), is among the 100 most threatened species in the world. Found only in Singapore, it grows up to 3cm across the carapace, or the shell, and up to 5cm with the legs stretched out. It performs an important role in the proper functioning of hill streams by helping in nutrient recycling, and is potentially an indicator of pollution and climate change. PHOTO CREDITS: CAI YIXIONG
The critically endangered Singapore freshwater crab (Johora singaporensis), is among the 100 most threatened species in the world. Found only in Singapore, it grows up to 3cm across the carapace, or the shell, and up to 5cm with the legs stretched out. It performs an important role in the proper functioning of hill streams by helping in nutrient recycling, and is potentially an indicator of pollution and climate change. PHOTO CREDITS: CAI YIXIONG

“When I discovered and named this species in the 1980s, I had no idea that its future would be a matter of debate and concern some 25 years on,” said Professor Peter Ng of the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science. “It heartens me that so many people are now trying to save this ‘insignificant invertebrate’ from imminent extinction. It would indeed have been a dark tragedy if discovering the species all those years ago was merely a prelude to its extinction. I hope it is not.”

“Crabs such as Johora singaporensis are typically found in hill streams, which is a rare habitat in Singapore to begin with, being restricted to only the central part of the island,” added Assistant Professor Darren Yeo, who is also with the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science.

Decade-long monitoring of the populations of Johora singaporensis has revealed that these crabs have an environmental preference for relatively clean and fast-flowing streams in the highlands with a near neutral pH. Presently, the crab is found largely in Bukit Batok, Bukit Gombak and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. They can persist even in small fragmented habitats under the right conditions. Current conservation efforts include plans to establish a breeding programme, as well as an ongoing two-year research project launched in 2013 by NParks and NUS to study the conditions of the crabs’ existing habitats and possible remedial actions. As conservation efforts gain momentum, the next important milestone is to gather key stakeholders together to improve them.

The Roundtable on Freshwater Crab Conservation brings together key stakeholders involved in conservation of the iconic Johora singaporensis, for consolidation and dissemination of results of ongoing freshwater crab conservation efforts in Singapore. Foreign and local ecologists including researchers from the National University of Singapore and officers from the National Parks Board working on Johora singaporensis, as well as other members from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Nature Society Singapore, Ministry of Defence, Singapore Land Authority, National Environment Agency, Public Utilities Board, and Urban Redevelopment Authority have all been invited to participate, brainstorm, contribute their unique perspectives, and help mould a future conservation plan for this species.

Dr Lena Chan, Director of National Biodiversity Centre, NParks, said, “NParks is committed to the conservation of our native freshwater organisms, particularly endemic species like the Singapore Freshwater Crab Johora singaporensis, Johnson’s Freshwater Crab Irmengardia johnsoni and Swamp Forest Crab Parathelphusa reticulata. We look forward to our usual amicable multi-agency co-operation which is crucial for the success of this conservation initiative.”

Dr Neil Cumberlidge, Chair of the IUCN SSC Freshwater Crab and Crayfish Specialist Group, and Dr Philip McGowan of the IUCN Species Survival Conservation Planning Sub-Committee will both participate in the Roundtable, adding valuable inputs to the design of the conservation plan. Dr McGowan said, “Effective conservation in today’s world has to balance the needs of species with those of people and their interests. Our approach has evolved to reflect that. The purpose of strategic planning is to understand what is driving the threats to the Singapore freshwater crab and then develop a holistic and realistic way forward that gives this iconic species the best chance of survival. Strategic planning on its own will not save the species, but the understanding and agreement that is part of the planning process, greatly improves its survival prospects.”

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said, “Wildlife Reserves Singapore is continuously exploring ways we can work with field researchers, and contribute to the ex-situ conservation of Johora singaporensis. A possible method may be to establish a trial breeding project in River Safari for these native crabs, followed by the eventual reintroduction of the species into restored, rehabilitated streams.”

This Roundtable is also indicative of Singapore’s willingness and seriousness regarding the protection of its freshwater biodiversity and the ‘not-so-charismatic’ fauna.

KITTY CATS GALORE AT NIGHT SAFARI

DOUBLE SURPRISE AS WORLD’S FIRST SAFARI PARK FOR NOCTURNAL ANIMALS WELCOMES BIRTH OF FISHING CATS AND BEARCATS

A pair of fishing cat kittens (left) and a pair of bearcat cubs (right) PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

24 April 2012 – The world’s first Night Safari recently celebrated the birth of a pair of fishing cats and bearcats. The fishing cats were born on January 13 while the bearcat litter joined approximately two weeks later, on January 26.

The young fishing cats, one male and one female, are currently being hand-raised to increase the kittens’ chances of survival, as their four-year-old mother is relatively inexperienced. At three-months-old, the kittens weigh approximately 3kg and are growing strong and healthy.

The two other cubs – both currently weighing 2.5kg – are binturongs, also known as bearcats. Over the years, the park has successfully bred 60 bearcats. This secretive animal has a face like a cat’s and a body like a bear’s. Despite its name, the bearcat is neither a bear nor a cat. It is actually a member of the civet family. Found primarily on treetops in the rainforest of south and southeast Asia, bearcats have a mixed diet of fruits, leaves, birds, carrion, fish and eggs.

Due to habitat destruction, the numbers of fishing cats and bearcats are declining in the wild. In addition to habitat loss, over-exploitation of local fish stocks threatens the survival of fishing cats. Bearcats are captured for the pet trade, and their skins and body parts are traded for traditional medicine in some Asian countries. Fishing cats are listed as endangered on the IUCN* Red List of Threatened Species while bearcats are classified as vulnerable.

Night Safari displays the bearcats and fishing cats in the Fishing Cat Trail.

Being one of the few cats that love water, fishing cats eat primarily fish but will also prey on crustaceans, frogs and snakes. The cat attracts fish by lightly tapping the water's surface with its paw, mimicking insect movements. It then dives into the water to catch the fish.
A curious fishing cat kitten explores its area. Fishing cats are commonly found near densely vegetated areas near the marshes, mangrove swamps and rivers of Asia.
In Malay, the bearcat is also known as “musang manis” – the word “manis” means sweet and this relates to the animal’s pleasant scent, which is said to smell like pandan leaves or popcorn. The bearcat is actually a civet, which is characterised by an elongated body and anal scent glands that produce secretions for scent marking.
A bearcat cub demonstrates its ability to hang upside down with its long, prehensile tail to grip on the tree branch. The tail is also equipped with a leathery patch at the end for extra grip.

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