Singapore-Nature: 13. Biodiversity-Red Data Book

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The Straits Times of 4th March, 1993.

In the 1960s the then Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) played an important role in making people aware of the need to conserve the environment. The rapid clearing of land for housing and industries resulted in pockets of nature areas fast disappearing. This in turn led to concerns of the possibilities of plant and animal species disappearing fast. At the same time there was a realisation that the world’s species of flora and fauna might similarly be in danger of extinction. Species extinction is acceptable but the accelerated rate is another question. Once extinct, the species is a loss to mankind forever. A good example is the giant squirrel named by Stamford Raffles in 1821. Indigenous to Singapore, it is the biggest of the species. Now it is so rare that in 1991 only two were spotted in the Central Catchment area.

The Straits Times of 24th November, 1991.

In June 1994 P.K.L. Ng and Y.C. Wee, with the help of a team of zoologists and botanists from the National University of Singapore, as well as citizen scientists from the nature society, published The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The primary purpose of publishing the Red Data Book was to raise awareness about the conservation status of species and to encourage their protection and conservation. Countries that publish their individual Red Data books show their commitments to protect their plant and animal species and to ensure the long-term survival of their biodiversity.

P.K.L. Ng (right) and Y.C. Wee.

This Red Data book listed about 250 species of plants and animals, each accompanied by a black and white photo. The status of the organism, whether vulnerable, endangered, extinct or indeterminate was also stated. A short description of the organism, its habitat and ecology, distribution, threat (habitat loss, over collection, unviable population level, poaching, etc.), scientific interest and potential value as well as conservation measures to be taken were included. The book was funded by Asia Pacific Breweries as a community service project. A second edition, with updates and colour images was published by the Nature Society (Singapore) in conjunction with the National Parks Board in 2008. Currently the National Parks Board is in the process of updating another volume, also with colour images.

The Singapore Red Data Book, first edition (left) and second edition.

Less than six months later another book was published: A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore by Y.C. Wee and P.K.L. Ng, again from the then Departments of Botany and Zoology respectively, of the National University of Singapore. Contributors included I.M. Turner, C.L. Meng, T.K. Tan, H.T.W. Tan and D.J. Metcalf. All the plants and animals found in Singapore, current as well as past (through publications) were listed. Funds for the publication of the book came from the Rag and Flag day collections by the National University of Singapore Students Union.

A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.

In 1991, the society worked with government to establish the Singapore Green Plan, which outlined the government’s commitment to environmental conservation and sustainability. Since then, the government had implemented various measures to protect and conserve the natural environment, such as the creation of the National Biodiversity Centre and the National Parks Board, and the designation of nature reserves and protected areas.

The Straits Times of 13th March, 2023.

Loss of biodiversity is caused by a variety of factors, including habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, overexploitation of resources, and invasive species. Every now and then, a species thought to be endangered or extinct, is rediscovered, as in the case of the critically endangered catfish found in a freshwater swamp.

Since the publication of the book, the Singapore government has implemented various measures to protect biodiversity, such as the creation of new parks and reserves, the restoration of degraded habitats, and the reintroduction of extinct species. Singapore signed the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, showing its commitment to halting this loss not only in Singapore but in the world at large.


YC Wee

24th May 2023

Follow YC Wee:

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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