AsianScientist (Jan. 21, 2020) – With its efforts to preserve green spaces in the face of rapid modernization, Singapore has earned itself international repute as a garden city. But that is not to say there have been no casualties in the march of progress.
Residing in Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve, the island nation’s largest nature reserve spanning more than 2,000 hectares of forested land, is a species of monkey known as the Raffles Banded Langur. So named because they were discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles two centuries ago, the population of Raffles Banded Langurs has dwindled to just 60 in recent years.
Leading the movement to conserve this critically endangered species is Dr. Andie Ang, a primatologist at the Wildlife Reserve Singapore Conservation Fund and the president of the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore). She chairs the Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group, set up in August 2016 to monitor and gather data on the monkeys and use that information to direct initiatives to secure the species’ future.
“I believe in doing research and collecting data that can eventually help in conservation efforts. I’m not purely an academic where I just collect data for scientific purposes,” Ang told Asian Scientist Magazine. “At the same time, I don’t believe in just doing conservation without the scientific background. I want to do data-driven, evidence-based conservation.”
Ang’s passion for primates was sparked at a young age when her family received a juvenile wild vervet monkey as a gift. Just ten years old then, Ang was ignorant of the fact that the monkey was illegally taken from Zambia, but came to learn that the monkey did not belong in her home as a pet. She credits that close encounter with the monkey for putting her on the path of primate conservation.
For her work, Ang travels to countries in the region, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, to understand the habits of not only the Raffles Banded Langur, but also other monkey species like the Indochinese silvered langur and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey.
“In terms of conservation, it is very important to know the monkeys’ feeding preferences. For example, the monkeys that I studied, they are mostly vegetarian, so they only eat leaves, flowers and fruits—they’re very selective,” Ang explained.
She added that by understanding the monkeys’ feeding preferences—some of which might be seasonal—one can begin to infer their migration patterns and how they fit into the overall ecosystem of an area. Since food choice and availability influences migration, Ang noted that the data from field studies could even facilitate the repopulation of degraded land, such as land which was previously used as a dumping site.
“So you don’t just remediate an area with any plant species, but take a very targeted approach,” she said.
Ang also highlighted her ambition to make primate watching as popular as bird watching.
“Did you know that bird watching is a multi-billion-dollar industry? People spend a lot of money just to go to places to find that particular species of bird they want to take a good photograph of. In the process, they’re helping the ecotourism in that area and supporting community development, because you have to protect the forest in order to have the birds there,” she said.
However, the popularization of primate watching is hobbled by the lack of sufficient information resources on where to find the various primate species. Ang is attempting to change that with primatewatching.com.
“There are, at the moment, 511 species of primates globally, and my aim is to put up a page for each and every species,” she quipped, adding that the site also lists the success rate of spotting those species in their natural habitats.
“So my aim is to provide a free platform for people to find out where they can go to see different primates in their natural habitat, then go to the area to learn more about the community and how they can help in conserving those habitats,” she said.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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