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  Lessons from the Failed Magpie Robin Reintroduction
could help the reintroduction of the Greater Mousedeer

Main article | Lessons from failed reintroduction | Plans to reintroduce the Greater Mousedeer

by Lim Kim Seng

Member, Conservation Sub-committee
Nature Society (Singapore)

The reintroduction of the Oriental Magpie Robin back into Singapore's parks in the early 1980s seemed promising. But it failed because the reintroduction programme did not look carefully into the causes of its extinction in the first place.

But in every failure are valuable lessons and it is hoped that the programme to reintroduce the Great Mousedeer into Singapore's nature reserves will take into account the reasons for the failure of the robin reintroduction, and ensure that the factors ensuring success for this shy mammal are present.

Like the mousedeer, the robin was a common animal in Singapore in the first half of the twentieth century. But urbanisation, competition from mynas and poaching caused it to decline from the 1960s onwards (the mousedeer had virtually disappeared even earlier as it needs larger undisturbed forest habitats).

By the early 1980s, there were about less than 50 birds country-wide, and these were found only in the rural areas of mainland Singapore and coasts of offshore islands.

The idea of reintroducing the robin was hatched and the person who started the programme island-wide was Chris Hails, an ornithologist with the then Parks and Recreation Department (PRD). The programme released about 40 captive-bred robins into parks throughout Singapore.

Initially, the birds maintained their numbers and some even bred—thanks to regular patrols by PRD rangers to deter poachers. But when the patrols ceased, the birds started disappearing from these sites.

Then in 1987, 10 robins were released on Pulau Hantu Besar. While these birds were not poached—due to the limited accessibility of the island—their numbers still declined and in 1997 only two birds were left and last year, none were spotted.

So the magpie robin experiment—Singapore's first attempt at reintroduction—failed for two reasons. In the first case because of poaching and in the second case because too many birds were released into a small area (Pulau Hantu Besar).

Today, the only places where you can see the robin with any certainty are Pulau Ubin, Sungei Buloh and Sentosa, the latter two sites had probably had their native robins supplemented by the released birds.

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