Saturday, September 3, 2011

Singapore Books: Singapore Biodiversity

When I got back from my long trip to the US, Bryan had a surprise awaiting me - a GIANT book! The 10-pound monster was the recently published Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. The book has a number of contributors, with much of the content provided by the editors: Peter K.L. Ng, Richard T. Corlett, and Hugh T.W. Tan. I was thrilled to see that such a comprehensive book had been published on a topic that I've come to care so much about. Perusal of the book further impressed me - it's chockablock with fantastic color photos of Singapore's flora and fauna, full of interesting factoids about wildlife and natural history, and sprinkled with useful maps. If you're looking to find out something about Singapore's nature or wildlife, this is the place to look.
Now, I don't want to undermine my own praise of the book - the huge project was clearly a herculean effort, but I do have a criticism. Singapore's most visible non-human animal, the long-tailed macaque, was definitely given short shrift in this book. While the elusive and uncommon banded leaf monkey got a photo on the cover and a special one-page write-up, the long-tailed macaque just got a standard entry in the encyclopedia section. To make matters worse, some of the information provided is actually incorrect, for example the statement that "It lives in social groups of up to about 30 individuals." It's true that 30 is a reasonable size for a macaque group, but here in Singapore, there are many known groups larger than that, including the highly visible Hindhede monkeys, a group of about 60 that always hangs out at the Bukit Timah Visitor Centre, and another group of at least 60 at MacRitchie. I think it's a shame that this huge book so obviously undervalued the long-tailed macaque. Singapore already treats the common monkey as a pest instead of an integral part of an eco-system. This book could have done something to help their reputation, but instead it glossed over one of the only large mammals remaining in the country as though they don't matter. I found that very disappointing.

Despite my misgivings about the coverage of macaques, the Singapore Biodiversity encyclopedia is still an invaluable resource for anyone interested in nature in Singapore, and I highly recommend it. However, if you're interested in learning more about long-tailed macaques, I direct you instead to this article about Singapore's long-tailed macaques, or this primate factsheet about long-tailed macaques in Asia in general.


  1. If they get stuff about macaques wrong, there's probably a lot of other stuff wrong as well.

    Still, your article enthused me to rush down to Borders Orchard to get it...then I remembered...

  2. Glad you're excited about it! I bet they have it at Kinokuniya in Ngee Ann City.

    I'm guessing that most of the book is pretty accurate - these guys are big wildlife experts. But I think people shrug off the macaques as unimportant b/c they're abundant and often considered pests. I'm sad they're so often taken for granted :(

  3. I got a copy of this at the zoo on the weekend. If you hadn't written about it, I still wouldn't know of it.

    It's pretty interesting, but too much detail on stuff we never see, and not enough on the common/interesting ones like birds and snakes. Weird that so many birds arrived in Singapore in cages in the 1920's....