Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things We Find in the Woods Part Eleven

Bryan and I have lived in Singapore for 2 years and 9 months now. All this time, I've been hoping to see the banded leaf monkey. It's one of only two types of monkey in Singapore (the other being the long-tailed macaque), and it's very rare. My friend Andie Ang did a census of them and found that there are only about 40 left in the wild in Singapore, meaning that the banded leaf monkey is locally critically endangered. They're confined to the Central Nature Reserves, and they're very wary of people, usually taking off through the trees as soon as you spot them. All of these things mean that it's very difficult to see these monkeys in the wild.

But last week we hit the jackpot. My colleague and I were doing our macaque census at Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. We were watching a group of macaques on the edge of the forest. Jayasri was looking through the binoculars. She lowered the binoculars, squinted at the trees, lifted the binoculars, and lowered them again. "CRYSTAL. BANDED LEAF," she hissed in an urgent whisper. I got all wide-eyed and crazy and stood up, slowly making my way toward the trees, hoping to get a photo. The monkeys are notoriously hard to photograph, as they're often high up in the trees, and quick to flee. But I got lucky again. It's not a great photo, but it's proof that it really happened!
Love the white stripe along the front of the body

They're really just beautiful animals. I admit that we got super distracted from our research on the long-tailed macaques, and spent about an hour just admiring these monkeys through the binoculars. We were very quiet and got lucky that they stuck around for so long before moving off.

It's hard to follow that. What's exciting after seeing a banded leaf monkey in the wild in a place where they're critically endangered?? Well, we had another experience that was exciting in a different way.

One day at Bukit Batok Nature Park, Jayasri and I were in the carpark where we've frequently seen the long-tailed macaques. As we sat there, we heard a loud banging sound on the other side of the empty carpark. As we looked in the direction of the sound, we saw a snake thrashing around atop a trashcan. Eager to see what type of snake it was, I got up and hurried over.
It was a paradise tree snake!

We watched the snake for a while, and I was surprised to see how active it was! Most snakes I've seen in the wild are super lethargic, and just sit there without moving.
Slithering all over the place

Pretty soon we figured out why the snake was so active. His tail was caught in the trashcan lid! We discovered this when the snake flung himself over the side of the trashcan and starting banging himself against it in a vain attempt to free himself.
Poor little guy!

If you know me, you know that I can't handle to see animals in pain or distress (see the time I almost cried in front of two well-respected primatologists because a monkey got attacked by a dog). So of course, my first thought was "WE HAVE TO HELP THE SNAKE!" I set off on a search for a stick longer than the snake. All I could find was a very short rake, and my friend was NOT approving of my idea to free an angry snake with a short rake.

We stood there a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. We called everyone we knew from NParks, but nobody picked up (it was after office hours). So then we called ACRES, the local wildlife rescue organization. After some difficulty in explaining that a snake was stuck in a trashcan, they dispatched someone to help us.

But before they got there, a few workers showed up in a lorry. One of them saw the snake and started throwing rocks at it, earning himself a loud, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!?!" from me. They walked away, and a few minutes later one of the other guys returned with a very long stick. He looked at us and asked, "Free it or kill it?" "FREE IT!!! DON'T HURT IT!" we both yelled at him. And so he did. As soon as he lifted the lid, the poor snake fell out and slithered away faster than I have ever seen a snake move. Phew. To think that I used to get stressed out at work over printer jams.

Well, I really can't top endangered monkeys and daring snake rescues, so I'm not even going to try. Here's a picture of a pigeon.
A pigeon

I mean, this isn't just any bird. It's the prettiest pigeon around! It's a male pink-necked green pigeon. I think they're really beautiful!

You know who else would probably appreciate the pink-necked green pigeon? The mangrove snake. Although, while I appreciate the bird as a lovely birdwatching find, the mangrove snake would appreciate it as a delicious snack!

We actually saw not one, but TWO of these snakes one day in a tree at Lower Peirce Reservoir Park. It was SO cool. They were even mating up there in the tree! I don't know if you've ever witnessed two snakes getting it on, but I assure you that it's weird. They looked like they were trying to turn themselves inside out!

Unlike most of the snakes I've seen in Singapore, these are BIG - they grow to be 6 to 8 feet long and are about as big around as a man's wrist. It was pretty amazing to see two big snakes up the same tree. We did give them a wide berth while we observed them, however - mangrove snakes (a.k.a. gold-ringed cat snakes) are mildly venomous and are known to be very, very aggressive.

We've seen lots more neat wildlife and nature lately, so look for more Things We Find in the Woods posts soon!

A Sidenote: Although we ultimately didn't need them to free the snake caught in the trashcan, ACRES was very prompt in answering our call and dispatching someone to assist us.

If you ever find an animal in distress and don't know how to help, I highly recommend calling ACRES Wildlife Rescue Hotline at +65 9783 7782!


  1. Amazing...inspired me to do a trek to Central Catchment on Tuesday...hope I can see half of what you did.

  2. Hiya - stumbled upon your blog while trying to determine if the snake found in our bedroom really is a brown tarantula. Anyway, we're an expat couple whose main hobby is exploring the nature reserves with cameras. We live by Kent Ridge Park and keep hoping we'll see an equatorial black cobra, but no luck yet! Anyway, nice to find people who appreciate Singapore's wildlife as much as we do!

  3. Hi Tanya, you are living in the right place to see a spitting cobra. I lived in Vista Park at the base of Kent Ridge, and saw my first cobra in the gutter right outside there. I saw my second cobra in Kent Ridge park. The third time in five years was at Sungei Buloh, which was truly a close encounter. I'd rather be in Crystal's shoes to encounter the paradise tree snake.