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

IMG-20160301-WA0015

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 https://blog.nus.edu.sg/singaporecivet/the-civet-team/ or write to us if you want our team to visit your school or event!

Civet roadkill recovery – small actions can save the lives of wildlife

Two days before Christmas 2014, I came into office expecting an uneventful day. Not long after I reached campus, I received a notification from Nurliyana Omar, an Otterman Holt graduate who previously conducted a research on the fishtail palm (Caryota mitis). Liyana reported a common palm civet roadkill carcass along Clementi Road, at the NUS Arts Faculty entrance on the first left lane.

This was the third civet roadkill reported to us in the month of December.

Once a roadkill is reported, it is always a race against time and traffic to recover an intact carcass. We could not retrieve the first civet roadkill at Goodwood Hill, reported to us by Dr Darren Yeo, as by the time Tze Kwan arrived at the scene, the civet had already been crushed by multiple vehicles. Instead, tissue and hair samples were collected and deposited in the cryo collection in the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Therefore when I received the notification from Liyana, I quickly gathered the necessary equipment for carcass recovery and headed over to the Arts Faculty via the ridge. Even before I had a visual of the body, I could smell a whiff of pandan-like musk at the traffic junction. I looked across and saw a long slender black tail at the edge of the road metal railing. My heart sank. It was a common palm civet.

    The civet carcass was moved from the road to the side using wet tissues.

Someone moved the common palm civet carcass from the road to the side using wet tissues.

I took photos of the carcass and realized that the civet had sustained many injuries due to the impact from the vehicle. The body was distorted and there was blood on its face and hind leg. After taking the photos, I put on gloves and gingerly placed the civet into a bag to carry back to Science Faculty. As I carried it back to the ridge, I could not help but feel the weight of this usually elusive nocturnal animal. It was alive and well just a couple of hours ago.

Many times I would think of how we can help these last wild urban carnivores and many other wildlife that live in coexistence with human in Singapore’s urban landscape. It could be a small action such as driving a little slower, slowing down our pace of life to appreciate nature or even sharing these wonders with our friends and family. This can make all the difference between life and death for an animal. Every person can be the catalyst for change. As 2014 draws to a close, I hope that each of us can do our part and make a difference for wildlife in Singapore.