Many birders would have been aware of the family of Buffy Fish Owls (Ketupa ketupu) that inhabit the forest of the Lower Peirce Reservoir. Recently the juvenile owl was the focus of much attention as it sits quietly on its perch during most days, at times fishing, feeding, bathing or simply napping.
Then yesterday morning (21st April 2007), there was a near tragedy as the juvenile owl got entangled in a mass ot fishing line left in the water by some irresponsible fishing enthusiast. But let Amy Tsang relates the incldent…
“Today at Lower Pierce around 9 am in the morning, KC and I went to look for Buffy, the Fish Owl at the spot which KC had last photographed it. Having missed it previously despite making 4-5 earlier attempts to do so, I was very determined to see Buffy today. We made our way along the boardwalk to Buffy’s last favoured spot, and passed two young men attempting to cast their fishing lines from the boardwalk. I thought no more of this sight since fishing is allowed in some parts of the reservoirs.
“When I made my way into the forest edge next to the boardwalk, Buffy’s presence was not immediately apparent to me as the owl’s beautiful light and dark brown plumage enables it to remain quite well camouflaged against the forest background. I circled the ground for a while looking for Buffy, and suddenly realised that she was practically just above me, seated quietly on a branch about 20 feet above the ground. Our eyes locked when I looked at Buffy and she was lovely! Then I noticed a messy entangled fishing line hanging below her, and I realised to my horror that it was actually caught up with one of Buffy’s feet/talons (above, arrow). I immediately called KC to see Buffy as it was in trouble. We both felt that Buffy’s situation was serious as her life could be threatened if the fishing line around her feet got caught up in some bush or tree branches. She will be immobilised, unable to move and hunt/feed herself and unable to flee from any of her predators.
“KC swung into action, calling Nature Society Singapore’s active birders-cum-leaders who then contacted Ms Sharon Chan of National Parks for help to rescue Buffy from her dangerous plight. Alan Owyang from NSS arrived first. Just before he did so, Buffy was attempting on its own to extricate itself from the messy entangled fishing line from around its feet/talon. KC observed that Buffy flew down from its perch to the ground, and then up again to another lower tree branch (right). Then Buffy used its beak trying to undo the tangled fishing line from its feet, but did not succeed in her attempts to do so. It got a bit tired then, and seemed to nod off to sleep for a while. Soon within the hour, Sharon arrived with several NParks rangers along with their rescue equipment. As we all watched Buffy, and the rescue team wondered how best to handle the rescue, Buffy was roused from its rest and started again to wriggle its body and feet. Perhaps, it sensed that many angels of mercy were around her and she found strength to try again to extricate herself from this fishing line mess. Then to everyone’s delight and relief, Buffy suddenly flew up from her perch and seemed to break free from her entanglement, flying swiftly to another patch of the forest behind her. She was FREE at last! And probably very hungry too as she may not have been able to actively hunt for her breakfast given her predicament.
“We spoke with Sharon after this incident and she fedback that loose discarded fishing lines are a hazard to both birds and animals. She had previously rescued a monkey which was similarly entangled in discarded fishing lines, and she and her rangers did this at some risk to themselves as the other monkeys were very agitated at the sight of their handling the distressed monkey. She said that clearly public education must actively continue to make members of the public realise that such items like discarded fishing lines can be very life threatening to our wildlife, and they must exercise responsibility to dispose of such items appropriately outside of the forest parks. She also highlighted that there are designated areas for fishing and it is important for the public to stay to those designated areas, so that problems as what we had encountered will not occur and endanger our wildlife.
“When we finally left the Buffy Owl’s spot and returned to the boardwalk, we came across another man who fashioned his own fishing rod from a long palm stem. ‘Another potential killer in the making’ we thought, as the fisherman may also leave behind some fishing line when he is done with his fishing activity. Being wiser now, we informed him that fishing is illegal at the spot where he was and that NPark rangers would book him if they saw him doing so. He took note and quickly left the place.
“We are glad that the beautiful Buffy Owl has the chance to live another day, as she succeeded in breaking free from her entanglement with the fishing line mess. We urge everyone to spread this public education message so that the wildlife in our forest parks will never have to face such dangers, as some may not be as lucky as Buffy is today!”
Input by Amy Tsang, images of entangled Buffy by KC Tsang and Buffy in happier times by Johnny Wee.