Have you met our civet outreach team?

By Claudia Ang

The NUS Civet Research Team has been amping up its efforts to provide school talks island-wide, in hopes that students growing up in Singapore will be better equipped with a knowledge and appreciation for the common palm civet, one of the country’s last wild urban native carnivores. The team’s researchers, Xu Weiting and Fung Tze Kwan, both of whom are NUS Toddycats, have carried out research on the distribution, biology, and diet of the civets in Singapore. The presentations and exhibition are thus supported by the scientific research work which the team does. The talks are conducted by the two researchers and civet intern, Claudia Ang. From mid 2015, there have been plenty of talks and events that are scheduled for the coming months, but here is an overview of what we have done so far:

31 July 2015 – Presentation and Booth at Victoria Junior College Science Carnival

Left: Toddycats all smiles before students arrive

Left: Toddycats all smiles before students arrive

As part of the East Zone Science Carnival held by VJC, we had a specimen booth which illustrated the story of Singapore’s biodiversity. Weiting also gave a talk on raise awareness for the civet as one of Singapore’s last urban mammal. Having been there for five hours, the team managed to reach more than 150 students.

19 October 2015 – School Presentation at Victoria School

Students at Victoria School learn about the threats encountered by the civet in Singapore.

Students at Victoria School learn about the threats encountered by the civet in Singapore.

School talks cover the biology of the civet, its behavioural adaptations, and the threats that it faces in urban Singapore. Students also learn some ways in which they can help the civet, both locally and regionally. This was a talk given to a cohort of 300 secondary two Victoria School students.

16 November 2015 – School Presentation at MacPherson Primary School

MacPherson Primary students listen in attentively as the talk begins.

MacPherson Primary students listen in attentively as the talk begins.

This was a presentation at MacPherson Primary School, where we reached out to 130 students. There is usually a QnA session at the end of the talk, where students can take the opportunity to clarify their doubts or request for more information on issues that have piqued their interest.

18 November 2015 – School Presentation at West Grove Primary School

West Grove Primary students being posed a few questions on the civet.

West Grove Primary students being posed a few questions on the civet.

In that same week, we were invited to present at West Grove Primary School, where 300 students attended the talk.

2 February 2016 – Talk for Cnergy Programme students at Catholic High School

IMG-20160202-WA0005We had our very first talk of 2016 at Catholic High School, where we presented to a group of Integrated Programme students. It was a small group of approximately 20 students, who showed a developed interest in animal welfare issues. Many of them were also interested in seeking out opportunities to volunteer/work in for environmental conservation organisations too.

5 February 2016 – Talk for Green Group students at Mayflower Primary School

IMG_5516We had presented on civets and the native biodiversity to approximately 35 students part of the school’s environmental group. The students were highly engaged and gave excellent learning points gleaned from the short presentation.

18 February 2016 – School talk at Methodist Girls’ School

MGS - 1We presented on the biology and threats to civets as a link to the 210 secondary 1 students’ recent lesson on biodiversity and its importance to man. During the presentation, we also included a section on the importance of forests such as MacRitchie and the Cross Island Line issues which are important to both the civets and us.

1 & 3 March 2016 – School talks at Hai Sing Catholic School

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Learning all about the civet’s adaptability to our urban environment.

We visited Hai Sing Catholic School on two occasions to present to their lower secondary and upper secondary students respectively, reaching approximately 1200 students in that week.

29 March 2016 – Assembly talk for Upper Secondary Lower Peirce Secondary

IMG_1011We visited Lower Peirce Secondary to raise awareness on civets and other common wildlife in Singapore to 340 upper secondary students. They enjoyed the talk and learnt new and interesting information about our local biodiversity.

While we are warmed by the positive responses received from the students, much more has to be done to increase awareness of the civets and Singapore’s biodiversity to allow for better, more efficient conservation to happen. With all the presentations conducted and soon-to-happen, we hope that students inculcate within them a sense of pride in Singapore’s vibrant landscape and rich biodiversity, and thus a sense of protection for their environment. If you are interested in finding out more on what the NCRT does, do visit their website at http://blog.nus.edu.sg/singaporecivet/the-civet-team/ or write to us if you want our team to visit your school or event!

It’s World Animal Day!

World Animal Day is celebrated annually on the 4th of October. It was initiated to promote conservation and awareness efforts for endangered animals, so that members of the public would be aware of the existence of these animals and also the threats that they face. Gradually. World Animal Day evolved into a platform that actively advocates animal welfare, pertaining to all kinds of animals whether endangered or not.

In conjunction with World Animal Day, we’ve decided to take a look back on the existence of different species of the Viverridae family in Singapore. Yes, the common palm civet is part of the Viverridae, but in the past, it was not the only Viverridae species on the island. Due to rapid urbanization, many of these species no longer exist on our island, but there are a few that are still sometimes sighted by nature enthusiasts, such as:

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Malay civet, Viverra tangalunga (John Bakar, 2008)

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Masked palm civet, Paguma larvata (Smith, 2011)

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Large indian civet, Viverra zibetha (Tontantravel, 2014)

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Three-Striped palm civet or small toothed palm civet, Arctogalidia trivirgata  (Nick Baker, 2015)

These civets are extremely elusive. For example, an image of the Malay civet was captured on a camera trap back in 2012, but no one has actually seen it in the flesh before. The rest of the civet species are restricted to Singapore’s nature reserves and are hardly observed. This shows us how they are, really, not too keen on getting our attention at all and would much rather be left alone. However, it is encouraging to know that there is still a handful of them amongst us, and that they haven’t fully deserted our garden city yet. If you are interested to find out the diversity and status of civets in Singapore, you can read the Chua et. al. (2012) report.

In addition, Singapore also used to be home to other species of the civet family. These include the large spotted civet (Viverra megaspila), small indian civet (Viverricula indica) and binturong (Arctictis binturong). The existence of the binturong on the island is indeterminate, for there was a recent capture of an individual in the Bukit Panjang area in 2004. Furthermore, the sighting of a certain “bear-like creature” in 2010 led to the speculation that the creature might actually be a binturong. Unfortunately, with no conclusive evidence and no subsequent sightings, that speculation was soon tossed out.

While it is sad that these species no longer exist in Singapore, it is also heartening to know that in spite of all the urban and industrial development that Singapore has gone through, the common palm civet’s adaptability has allowed it to survive here in urban Singapore.

However, we must remember that although some of these animals are rarely seen nowadays, we cannot be too quick to dismiss its existence in Singapore. After all, just because we do not see them does not mean that they do not live amongst us. This World Animal Day, let us know if you’ve had sightings of other species of Viverridae before, and maybe, if you’ve got a picture to share, send it over! We are always happy to hear from you. Meanwhile, let us spread the message and spirit of World Animal Day, to always be conscious of the existence of other creatures around us, to respect them and to always be kind towards them.