Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Conversation with a cat caregiver

Last Saturday, I went on a trip with NUSSU SAVE to an "animal resort" at Seletar. Although that in itself is an blogworthy experience, I would rather put aside my rants in favour for my raves.

I have always been a cat person. Of course all animals are welcomed in the monkey's tiny bosom but then cats always have a special place in my heart. Knowing that, you can just imagine my excitement when I saw a cat shelter just beside the animal resort.

Understandably conditions are not fantastic and the fact is that I have never personally visited any other cat shelters prior. Thus I am unable to make an accurate comparison or assessment of conditions. But overall, I did not find the conditions of the cats too negative. They all looked healthy and well fed. All of them are neutered and look content. Each are confined to a room of their own with baskets, shelves and fence to climb around. Some even have fans to ventilate their rooms. The only thing that might strike a person is perhaps the overwhelming concentration of feline urine ordour. But I suppose that cannot be avoided.

I started chatting up one of the girls who work at this shelter. I think one of my first question to her was if she is a volunteer. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by her answer that she is actually paid, as are the other staff at the cat shelter. I guess I am so used to people being volunteers at cat shelters but perhaps somebody can correct me if I am wrong.

Other than taking in strays, the cat shelter also serves as a boarding home for owners who can no longer keep the cats at their house. I suppose they pay regular maintenance fees which allow the owner of the shelter to afford employing full time caregivers to these pretty felines.

I was also informed that many of these kitties are actually abuse cases where some are one leg short or blinded or burnt. I suppose this is where the money from the other cats will cover the true rescue cases. If I am not wrong, it was divulged that the owner of this cat shelter used to be with the cat welfare society.

Upon further conversation, I found out that the caregiver I was talking to is actually a diploma holder who some how got the opportunity to work at this cat shelter. The pay seems decent, commanding more than a thousand dollars a month but is often met with disapproval from friends and family who question why she is engaged in such manual labour even though she has a diploma! Personally I told her that I think she has a fantastic job and I absolutely wouldn't mind having a job like that. She was surprised and said I'm the first person who ever told her that she has a good job. I think that made her day.

I think people who are engaged in occupations or vocations that goes beyond the ordinary 9-5 office jobs deserve our praise. Especially people who care for animals, places or even things that the common urbanites would hardly begin to fathom engaging in. To be able to break through social censure and commit to such a job with salary below her peer's deserve our encouragement and admiration. This includes people who work for NGOs, animal welfare groups and other jobs that people in meritocratic singapore would normally scoff at! For that alone, I have much admiration and praise for these dedicated beings. An example that comes promptly to mind would be Louis Ng, the executive director of ACRES who actually took a salary of $500 a month in the beginning, just as any other staff in ACRES, even though he has a Masters degree in Primate Conservation! Kudos!

I didn't get much chance to continue the conversation at that point as more people approached the shelter. What really tickled my curiousity is how she got the job in the first place? She mentioned that she never really liked cats before as she was scratched on the face when she was young. But today, she is a full time care giver at a cat shelter! I think the transition from fear and dislike to full time commitment is rather amazing. I would hardly think money or societal support were any part of the equation so I guess I can only conclude that the feline persuasion worked its charm again.


Related Reads:
Working with the Cat Welfare Society [link]
Cat Welfare Society [link]
ACRES [link]
Metta Cattery [link]

Read full article here

Friday, January 26, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

Good news for the staff, students and friends of NUS!

NUSSU SAVE (Students Against the Violation of the Earth) and CSC (Campus Sustainability Committee) is having a free screening of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth at a convenient place and time for the convenience of our busy schedules.

There are 2 dates at your convenience:

Date: 2nd February 2007 (Friday)
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Venue: Lecture Theatre 16, School of Business

Date: 8th February 2007 (Thursday)
Time: 7pm - 9pm
Venue: Lecture Theatre 28, Faculty of Science

In conjunction with the movie, speakers will also be lined up during the screening to share more information on climate change and global warming. Joesph Lai of Eart-h has also written a poignant piece on the forwarding of the doomsday clock that I will be arranging to circulate at the screening. It is a message akin to Al Gores but set in Singapore's local context. Hopefully that will serve as a wake up call to the staff and students in attendance.

"It was as if the '5-minute to Doomsday' fell on our ears like a pin drop.

You might retort: "What's the big deal? It's just symbolic after all."

Well, it all depends on how you connect it with reality and raising the stake at the same time.

Putting the proposition to you now, I ask: "You are not concern with 5 minutes to Doomsday, right? What if I were to tell you that you are 5 months to the day when a * green lung (a coastal forest with a size no smaller that the rain forest in the Singapore Botanic Gardens) will be destroyed in Sentosa to make way for the Intergrated Resort (IR). Are you still not concerned?"

* green lung -- the coastal forest is located between Siloso Road and the former Asian Village in Sentosa. It is where the iconic cycling trail transects. Some of the biggest Dragon Blood Trees, Dracaena maingayi, are found there. The area is slated for the development of the Integrated Resort (IR) which promises a psychedelic maze of gambling and entertainment.

- an excerpt from "Pinning Down Doomsday" by Joe Lai
Last year, the monkey had the opportunity to watch the movie at GV Marina during a sneek preview for tertiary students and educators, courtesy of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC). Below is a long overdue review by yours truly.

"An Inconvenient Truth is the highly anticipated movie featuring ex-USA vice president Al Gore. Presented in a seminar documentary style, the movie described causes and effects of global warming and climate change. For the skeptics, there is definitely no shortage of proof provided by the man with all the insider information ranging from previously unreleased military collected ice layer thickness data to shocking images of the disappearing ice of Kilimanjaro over the years.

It leaves little doubt in the audience’s mind after watching the movie of the reality of climate change and global warming. It may even come across as a dooms day message especially when the sight and sound of the collapsing glaciers and melting Antarctica ice shelf made me clutch the edge of my seat. It was as the trailer said, one of the most terrifying movies I’ve watched in years. Satellite images, ground photos, historical records and future projections leave no doubt that the glaciers are melting at an incredible rate. With the melting, sea level rise is inevitable and will be affecting low-lying countries like Singapore, amongst others!

However, for audiences unfamiliar with American history, politics and culture, certain references, expressions or even events in environmental history in the US may be foreign to local audiences. The data presented were also largely US-based. As the movie features footage of a lecture series that Al Gore has conducted in cities all over the US and even the world, it would be interesting to see Al Gore come to Singapore to present the topic in adapted for the local context. Of the world’s cities listed that Al Gore has toured with his climate change lecture, less than 5 were in Asia. His visit to China’s top institution, Qinghua University, the message of action against global warming was greeted with enthusiasm.

Many scientific concepts, graphs and charts were illustrated in clear and easy ways to understand targeted the layman in the audience. There were Simpson-style animation explaining greenhouse effect and global warming and animated frogs in boiling water to illustrate the importance of the precautionary principle. Memorable moments include Al Gore on an elevator that raised him up high above the floor to illustrate the exponential increase in carbon dioxide and temperature in recent years.

Interspersed between footage of the lecture are videos from Al Gore’s personal life, his family and his career in politics where much of it was spent advocating action against global warming and climate change. It was inspiring to know that there are politicians out there who are dedicated to the conservation of our environment and for the betterment of our planet. The movie clearly illustrated the important role between the government, politicians, companies, down to the end-users and consumers like us in the larger scheme of global warming.

Nonetheless, the movie ended off on a positive and inspiring note where a series of “things to do” rolled out before the credits. One of the things identified that you and I can do to play our part is to vote for an environmentally conscientious leader and the movie recommended that if such a politician is not available, we can always just “run for the position”! Regardless, the movie left us feeling motivated to do our little parts when we walked out of the cinema.

So what is the inconvenient truth? Who is it inconvenient to? Is it inconvenient just for the governments and big businesses or is it inconvenient for us as well? Watch the movie and find out the truth yourself. Catch it while you can during the short 2 weeks run in Singapore.

We can put an end to this “inconvenient truth”! More tips on how we can do so on the movie website at"

Read full article here

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

February Wallpaper

In anticipation for February, and in absolute procrastination and boredom, monkey created the first of her series of southern island desktop wallpaper calendars.

This is in part inspired by the Jimmy Liao website which provides monthly wallpaper calendar for users. In case you are not familiar with the name, Jimmy Liao is the taiwanese illustrator that created the books which became the movies "Turn left, Turn right" and "Colour of Sound".

Download the wallpaper:
[1600 x 1066] [1024 x 682]

Read full article here

Upcoming Events

27 January 2007 (Saturday)
Time: 3-4pm
Venue: Woodlands Regional Library

"Our Priceless Southern Shores"
Uniquely Singapore, our city reefs are just minutes from the central business district but teem with clownfishes (Nemos), seahorses, octopuses and of course lots of brilliant living corals. Some of the islands are still cloaked in forests that harbour rare plants and cling to magnificent natural cliffs and rock features. The Southern Islands are also rich in history, with a role in Singapore's founding, mysterious temples and shrines and intriguing sea legends. These islands are a peaceful haven for those who still want to see the stars, breathe the sea air and enjoy serenity away from the urban rush.

Ria Tan shares 600 photos and lots of stories of our Southern Islands. Come find out more about these magical islands, that belong to all of us and our children. And what you can do for them. For a sneak preview, see City Reefs

28 January 2007 (Sunday)
Time: 9am to 12noon
The two venues are:
1) Gek Poh Ville CC
2) Hong Kah North CC (main event)

"Hong Kah North Recycling Day"

There will be an exhibition and recycling demonstrations among other activities.

Most importantly, this recycling day is part of the Southwest CDC's Ecocommunity initiative which allows residents of Southwest CDC to bring in their recyclables in exchange for food coupons! (See image above).

This sunday, you can bring in your recyclables to any of the community centers listed here and collect a coupon which you can then proceed to redeem at the Hong Kah North CC near Bukit Gombak MRT.

The NUS Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research Toddycats has been invited down to set up a booth to introduce biodiversity/ marine litter issue to the heartlanders. Monkey will be there to do a song and dance while pedalling the wares. Buttons, magnets, tshirts, bukit timah nature reserve guidesheets, etc will be on sale.

If you live in the area, do come down and check out the event. You might even learn something or find some activities you can get involved with :)

Related Reads
RMBR News, 15 Jan 07
"Can 'food for trash' project be extended?" Straits Times forum, 24 Jan 07
"Residents in Hong Kah take part in RecycleXchange programme", CNA, 21 Jan 07

Read full article here

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Outdoors Classroom @ BTNR

On this breezy Tuesday morning, the parents dropped monkey off at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve visitor center in anticipation for an outdoors classroom session on Catchment Processes and Management. Yet, as early as 8am, it was already bustling with activities, not so much by the dozing long-tailed macaques but by the tailless primates known as Homo sapiens, already stretching their limbs for a early morning workout.

After a preliminary introduction, the class set off up the steep tarmac trek up the 163m hill, otherwise passing off as the tallest point in Singapore. Most of the time we were too busy looking at our feet as instructed as we were supposed to be examining signs of surface flow, erosion and sedimentation. The other half of the time, our out of shape conditions see us too busy catching our breaths rather than enjoying the bird calls and majestic dipterocarps around us.

The trail shortly led us to our destination - the once natural waterfall in our nature reserve. Sadly, it has since become of a rather piped consistency. Apparently, this was to prevent erosion and undercutting at the base of the waterfall. Still, now I actually understand why the trail is named Jungle Falls, sort of a tribute to the majesty of the previously largest natural waterfall in Singapore. Nonetheless, we did a bit of measurements and recorded a surprising (to the urbanites) velocity of 4 litres per seconds. Monkey made a close prediction of 3litres per second while some predicted a stingy 0.2litres per second. The piped conditions made it easy for us to actually measure the velocity without the usual cross section and width measurements or even using the currentmeter.

After a brief introduction to the various simple measuring equipments available to us (30m measuring tape, 3m measuring tape, penetrometer, clinometer, and soil type manual), we were then quickly dispatched to our assigned field site - the North View Path. Our group of 6 consisting of several animal friends like Hai~ren and Amazing Claudia is assigned to the trail from the junction with Seraya Loop to the North View Hut. I chanced across this old trail marker on the ground and could not help wondering how long this trail and marker has stand attest to time the presence of our first and of course, oldest nature reserve.

In the 1850s, the biggest threat in Bukit Timah was perhaps the Indo-Malayan Tigers that were reported to consume one chinaman each day. Today, the biggest threat to Bukit Timah is most definitely the largest predator in Singapore, the ever-hungry, recreational area consuming human enthusiasts. Even as we were there to think of how to study the impact by recreation, it occurred to me that there were no better people to observe then our own behaviors in the trails. How are we aiding to erosion as we sidestep the muddy tracks and unconsciously widening the trails? How are we undercutting the path further by digging in for a steadier foothold? Or even as we walk or poke the ground with walking sticks or even sands being kicked up as we climb the steps.

But even as we explore our trail, amazing claudia commented almost disappointedly that why was it that we haven't encountered any snakes! The professor in an earlier brief was joking that if we were lucky we might meet a few. Yet seeing how we were noisy and loud, discussing our subject at hand, we hardly took the time to listen out for rustling in the leaf litter. Hai~ren also speculated that our trampling about on the trail has probably scared our reptilian friends away. At many points during the morning, monkey felt absolutely guilty for failing the first rule to correct behavior in a nature area - silence. I must have been a howler monkey in my previous life. The quasi nature guide in me kick start to life and decided to just stop talking and start listening. Within seconds, we chanced upon two squirrels - possibly slender, or plantain but there are only that many species in Singapore. (edit: as suggested, it may have been a tree shrew afterall!)

Although we didn't see any snakes, but we did meet a reptile of another sort - a clouded monitor lizard (Varanus bengalensis nebulosus ). This juvenile was busy digging for breakfast when monkey heard a soft rustle in the leafs and spotted a tail and 4 feet sticking out of the ground. At some point, monkey even got some soil in the face courtesy of the little fella in its enthusiasm to find some grub for breakfast. It was very interesting observing him for all of 5 minutes before we realized we were taking too long with these nature-appreciation stops on the way to the summit. But all in all, stopping to appreciate the reserve for what it is - a home, a habitat, an ecosystem to millions of living things - was definitely more rewarding than those overheard saying "I'll scream if I see anything that moves!"

It does make one wonder at the kind of lessons we need to include in our curriculum that will actually teach our future decision makers, scientists and even citizen constituency alike the importance of looking at things holistically, beyond your assigned task. Why go about your task, whether you are biologists studying a particular plant or microbe or geographers studying a river. You need to appreciate the other factors beyond your realm. If you have no love for the environment at large, how effective a practitioner would you become? If you are unable to make holistic, all encompassing decisions in the future, how could we trust our homes to you? We want to know that you would be making the best decision for all of us, and not just thinking about your own bread and butter.

Where is the love? Indeed, where is the love!

Related Reads:

  • Hai~ren's account of the morning.
  • Monkey's BTNR flickr set

    Read full article here

  • Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    The top ten things we need to know about asian tropical forests

    Richard Corlett, PhD
    Department of Ecology & Biodiversity
    The University of Hong Kong

    Wed 10 January 2007, 4.00 PM
    DBS Conference Room
    Block S3 Level 5

    The forests of tropical Asia support 20-25% of global terrestrial biodiversity, but are now being rapidly cleared for commercial agriculture, while most forest areas that remain are degraded by uncontrolled logging. The protected area system is inadequate, even on paper, and legal protection has often done little to deter hunting and other forms of exploitation. This regional crisis is well documented, but the response so far has been insufficient and piecemeal. The problems are social and political in origin, but Science has an essential role to play in planning, prioritizing and implementing solutions. Ecological understanding is going to be particularly important in the long-term management of small protected areas and in the restoration of degraded habitats. Unfortunately, most ecological research in South East Asia has focused on a narrow range of largely academic problems, with the result that we understand neither how intact forest communities function nor how they are changed by human impacts. This seminar will give a brief introduction to ten gaps in our current knowledge and suggest how these gaps can be filled.

    Presented by: Professor Peter Ng

    I can't wait to meet, or at least see Corlett in the flesh! Wow wow wow! I've read so many of his papers and books. This is another one of my groupie moments.

    Read full article here

    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    Adventure on Sisters Island

    1. This is Singapore - believe it or not this is Sisters Island!
    2. Pretty in pink - anybody explain what those pink on the corals are?
    3. Is it a dead leaf? - no! it's a flatworm, waiting to be identified
    4. peekaboo - a highly venomous yellow-lipped sea krait peeks at me. thankfully I am still alive! warning: the photo was taken by professional haphazard monkeys. do not try this yourself!

    On the 2nd day of 2007, monkey's first low tide adventure in the new year was a visit to Big Sister's Island (Pulau Subar Laut) with the Wild Film Crew and Beach fleas. It was my first visit to the Marina South Pier and it was quite a a structure that appears out of the expansive area of reclaimed land in the area. I suppose the structure will fit in quite fittingly when the IR takes over the area.

    View from sea at night.

    Sometimes it's really difficult to believe what beautiful shores we have in our southern islands but it's true. They are stunning. Sometimes betrayed by the almost characteristic artificial sea walls that line our islets but still, as beautiful as any other "top beaches" of the world.

    This is Singapore! Believe it.

    During high tide, it seems deceivingly dull but it's a world of surprises when the tide goes down and the treasures of the shores are revealed in the precious brief 6 hours.

    It's amazing the things you can find at low tide in our shores. Perhaps those of us who are used to the seemingly sterile shores of artificial beaches of ECP and Sentosa's Palawan Beach may find it shocking to find that the best beaches of the world are not those that are filled with white sand and nothing much else. Au contraire.

    The magic of the shores goes beyond our wildest imagination. Like for example, here we have an example of how the shore can shrink you to half your size!

    The shores are always full of colour!

    Filled with things of all shapes and sizes.

    It's a great place to play "I spy with my lil eye..."

    Or hide and seek...

    We even took time off for a bit of fishing... and cleaning up snagged fishing lines afterwards. It was like a game of tug of war with our reefs.

    Once in a while you get overwhelmed by awe at the sights that go by and wonder if you'll pay millions to see this go by your window every night. And they thought MRT passing by your bedroom window was bad.

    At the end of the day, remember that chicken-pie stealing long tail macaques are no friends of leaf monkeys. *grin* This is the fabled monkey island where one day the planet of the apes... or island of the monkeys will come alive!

    Luckily this leafmonkey did not get mauled by commando macaques on the way to the toilet this time round but till next time! I'm off to chill out amongst the coconut trees, relaxin' against the setting sun.

    More photos at my Flickr set

    Read full article here