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  Will the animals return too?
Rainforest Rojak | Will the animals return too?

By Betty L. Khoo

There is exciting evidence that the primary rainforest is returning, that is what the big trees, the rattans and woody climbers show... But what of the animals, especially the bigger mammals like the tiger and the leopard? Would they, could they, ever return? (Even if they could return, one cannot see how we humans would allow them to coexist—how quickly that young tiger escapee from the Night Zoo was shot and killed!). And if some animal species have vanished never to return, then could the forest ever regenerate to its original primeval majesty? We learned through A View from the Summit that some species of plants (e.g., at Bukit Timah) need the larger mammals to eat their fruit and disperse their seed.

But let's recap some of the good news about mammals and fish in Singapore's nature reserves, particularly in the Central Catchment Area.

"Of the 70 species of mammals recorded in Singapore since 1819, 42 species have been seen over the last 15 years," said R. Subaraj, Chairman of the Vertebrate Group of the NSS. Those seen include marine mammals such as the endangered dugong and the indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and land mammals such as the lesser mousedeer, small-clawed otter, wild boar, and bats (NW, April- June '94 The Last Mammals by Goh Sui Noi).

Some of these mammals have been seen outside the reserves but as the Central Catchment Area is the largest forested area, it stands to reason it would have a much greater number of mammals than anywhere else. It was estimated that there were about 1,500- 2,000 long-tailed macaques (monkeys) left, most of them in this area.

Subaraj also recounted a wonderful experience he had with a mousedeer in MacRitchie Reservoir. They startled one another... "but it calmed down and continued to feed." Of course many of these small mammals—despite the regenerating forest here—are rare and endangered. Still, there is occasional good news, like the sighting of the Malayan flying lemur, once thought to be extinct.

Even more encouraging perhaps was the news (in this same feature), of the comeback of some of the big mammals on Pulau Tekong (wild boar and panther) when that island was allowed to revert to forest following its take-over by the Singapore Armed Forces. But again, would we allow these animals to coexist with us? One very much doubts. Remember that Malaysian elephant that swam to Pulau Ubin and was hunted down and sent back? Still, there is every reason to hope that small mammals like otter, slow loris and pangolin (ant eater) would be encouraged to multiply in the undisturbed and regenerated forests.

We must not also forget the fresh water fish in the many streams that feed into the reservoir. In "Fishes of the Forest" (the forest named here being those in the Central Catchment Area), Ng Heok Hee and Peter K.L. Ng (NW April-June'95), gave disquieting and hopeful news of the fish life in these streams. "While we have lost almost 30 percent of our original freshwater fish fauna, with another 62 percent under immediate threat of extinction," they wrote, "at the same time studies have yielded species we had thought to be extinct." Even more exciting, they discovered fish new to Singapore.

But this must not distract us from the very real threat to all life—from pollution most of all. (See Ho Hua Chew's article, Encounters with Owls of Singapore in this issue. The Buffy Fish Owl is under threat because it fishes from the streams in the Central Catchment Area and recently these owls have been found poisoned and starving.)

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