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Thu 13 Jul 2006

The Tekong Porcupine

Category : nature

Norman Lim, one of our graduate students at the Department of Biological Sciences in the National University of Singapore, has been studying the ecology and natural behaviour of the Malayan Pangolin (or Scaly Anteater, Manis javanica) on Pulau Tekong in the northeast of Singapore. His work has been supported by research grants from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Singapore Zoological Gardens.

In December last year, he had a wonderful surprise. It had nothing to do with pangolins, but instead a porcupine! An animal never before reported on Pulau Tekong, and hardly seen since the 1970's. In "Wild mammals of Singapore" (a review by Yang, Yong & Lim in 1990)the authors suggested that while the Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) was once common in forested areas between 19th century to the 1960's, and was "sometimes found in secondary forests" by 1973, by 1990, it "must be very rare if it still exists in Singapore". As to physical evidence, the Raffles Museum holds a specimen from Bukit Timah in 1923.

So the photos of the porcupine were of considerable interest and the local papers carried the story earlier this year - "Tekong's Treasures." By Chang Ai-Lien. The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2006. [jpg scan]. For a map of Tekong, see Raffles Museum News.

Now Norman shares a little more about this spiny encounter:

08 Dec 2005 - "Yeo Suay Hwee and I heard rasping sounds in the vegetation near base camp. My torch beam picked up an eye-shine and I saw what appeared to be a huge rodent rocking to and fro. The bush was on the way but I managed to see short spines behind the head! The creature which was scratching its claws against a concrete kerb, seemed oblivious to my presence. Whistling to Suay Hwee to come over frightened the animal as it vanished into the bush.

I was sure it was a porcupine but that brief, partially concealed encounter, left me in doubt about the species identity. So an infrared-triggered camera-trap was setup at the same place the following evening, and I sweetened the deal with some sweet potatoes and tapioca bait.

A week later however, the camera recorded images of wild boar, plantain squirrel, emerald dove, rats and even a juvenile pangolin, all quite enjoyable scenes, but no porcupine. Just a week after that, however, the porcupine photographed taking the bait on two occasions - on 16 Dec 2005: 9:30 pm and 18 Dec 2005: 10.00pm!

The animal (believed to be a single individual) is estimated to be between 70 - 80 cm in total length. It has a a short tail and prominent black and white markings. We identified this animal as a Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura). There are no previous records of porcupines on Pulau Tekong. Even the military personnel stationed on the island reported pangolins, slow lorises and leopard cats, but not porcupines.

And there has been more- Pulau Tekong yielded two new records for Singapore in August 2005: a breeding population of the East-Asian Ornate Chorus Frog (Microhyla fissipes), and a Brown’s Flap-legged Gecko (Luperosaurus browni). Staff at both MINDEF and the National Parks Board who were updated about the finds, are very pleased!

The restricted access to the island and preservation of the natural habitat for training appears to be beneficial for wildlife. Poaching is likely non-existent or minimal, if at all. It appears that natural habitats, when left intact and relatively undisturbed, are a haven for native wildlife persisting in an otherwise urban Singapore!" - Norman Lim

Sequence of porcupine feeding on 16th December 2005.


9.39pm


9.45pm


9.53pm


9.56pm

The other exciting finds on Tekong will be featured in another post. Also, Norman wrote an article replete with colour photos for the May 2006 issue of Nature News, published by the Nature Society (Singapore).

Thanks to Joelle Lai for pestering me to put this up today.

Posted at 9:51AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news