Nature-Singapore: 5. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

View from the summit of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Much of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch)’s education programme involved conducting nature walks and lectures/seminars on various aspects of nature and its conservation. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was always popular for guided walks, for members as well as non-members. This was because most people had never experienced a walk through a high forest, let alone seen one. According to Dr D.J. Bellamy, an English botanist and television presenter, author and environmental campaigner, the forest has more plant species than the whole of North America.

Dr D.J. Bellamy on the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – The Straits Times 21st April, 1991.

This is our oldest forest, the nearest to what Singapore would look like when Stamford Raffles first stepped on the island in 1819. The forest however is not “virgin” in the sense that it was never exploited by man. Part of the area was cleared for the planting of gutta percha (Palaquium guytta) to exploit the white sap, a non-elastic exudate that was used to coat submarine telegraph cables in the mid-nineteenth century. These trees can be easily recognised by the presence of “herring-bone” cuts on the trunk, made to collect the latex. There were also patches of disturbed forests within the boundaries of the reserve. Despite the above, the area within the Fern Valley retains the “authentic” feel of primaeval rainforest. Incidentally, the valley was extremely rich in ferns when I did a survey of the fern flora in the 1960s for my BSc (Hons) thesis.

Amble in the jungle, Calibre April 1991

The last time I visited the valley, the area was more open as the surrounding trees had died. A consequence of this was the disappearance of many of the delicate mosses and ferns.

Hark, the rainforest whispers, The Sunday Times, 28th June, 1992.

A common animal in this forest is the Flying Lemur. And if you are fortunate, you may see one gliding above the forest, if not clinging on to the trunk of a tree. A common animal you are sure to encounter is the Long-tailed Macaque.

Flying Lemur gliding above the forest canopy

New species of cockroach from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, The Straits Times 9th March 2023.

A new species of cockroach, collected as far back as 2016 from the reserve, was only identified recently as a new species. A spokesman from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, entomologist Foo Maosheng and a colleague named it Nocticola pheromosa as the generic name means “fond of the night” in Latin. This discovery proves that the reserve has yet to reveal all its secrets, other than the much-studied insects like bees, butterflies and beetles.

Yet another guided outing for members of the Singapore Civil Service Sports Council (SCSSC) to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in July 1995.

At most outings, visitors are reminded to “Take only Photos and leave only Footprints.” We need to remember that this reserve is the only patch of the original forest left in Singapore. Should there be any suggestions of expropriating pieces of the reserve for whatever purpose in the future, Singaporeans should stand united and oppose such proposals.

YC Wee

11th March 2023

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