LIVING HISTORY

An escape & a sit-in

Ah Meng turning 46 at the Singapore Zoo in 2006. The charismatic orang utan was a major attraction for tourists and locals alike.
Ah Meng turning 46 at the Singapore Zoo in 2006. The charismatic orang utan was a major attraction for tourists and locals alike.ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

WILD TIMES

Sightings were not uncommon at the time.

"We have had reports of a tiger being seen about Singapore; first he was seen on two or three occasions near Changhie; then he was heard of at Siglap; and then there were signs of him near the Botanical Gardens, and there seemed ground for hope, that H.R.H would exhibit himself, if not among the animals at the Gardens, at least as a mark for some of our sportsmen," said a report on Nov 6, 1875. "We now hear of him at Seletar."

On March 24, 1935, the king of the jungle earned prime billing: a banner headline across Page 1 that screamed: TRACKER FINDS SINGAPORE TIGER. A small blurb assured The Sunday Times readers that it was NOT A MAN-EATER.

A "beat" was organised to hunt down Mr Stripes, as The Straits Times had dubbed him.

In the early 20th century, a tiger reportedly visited the iconic Raffles Hotel for tea. The wild feline hid beneath a billiard table, and was shot square between the eyes by the school principal of Raffles Institution, The Straits Times reported on Aug 13, 1902.

The Zoo's poster girl - Singapore's much-loved star orang utan - climbed to the top of a tree, and stayed there for three days before falling off and breaking an arm. "Ah Meng stages sit-in" was the paper's front page headline on March 30, 1982.

  • 1946

    ASIA RISING

    As life gradually returns to normal, advertisements, which are initially banned due to the shortage of newsprint, also begin increasing. Offices announce their openings, and notices offer rewards for the return of lost books, documents and furniture.

    Local news readership grows, although the front page continues to be reserved for regional or world news. Even Singapore’s rst general strike on January 29, 1946 fails to make the front page.

    Coverage reects the growing rise of Asian nationalism and international pressures against European imperialism. Speeches by Asian anti-colonial leaders, like India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as editorials in foreign newspapers that criticise imperialism, are reproduced.

    With a signicant drop in cable charges, The Straits Times is able to acquire the full Associated Press service in addition to Reuters and United Press.

    Despite the separation of Singapore as a crown colony, editors remain adamant about keeping the title of The Straits Times, emphatically shooting down a suggestion that it should be re-named the Singapore Times instead. This is in line with the newspaper’s vision of itself as a pan-Malayan national newspaper.

Not as majestic as the tiger, but feared nonetheless, were crocodiles and sharks. In February 1904, a column titled Singapore's Excitements highlighted a macabre haul. "There are few cities for instance which can boast like Singapore of having had two crocodiles captured and a tiger killed within the limits of one week."

In 1965, a sword-nosed shark weighing more than half a tonne was caught off Pasir Panjang. Two years later came the grisly discovery of a man's limbs inside a shark's stomach, along with part of his torso. The shark had been bought by an Ellenborough Market fishmonger at a fish auction in Boat Quay. It had reportedly been caught at a kelong off Pasir Panjang. The police concluded that the victim was not Singaporean and had probably hailed from a neighbouring island.

In 1969, the police issued a "missing" report with a difference. The description read: Height 4ft, 6 in. Has a dark brown head, black beak, blue neck, double red wattles, brown legs and black feathers.

The description was of a rare cassowary bird that had been stolen - along with two peacocks and a pair of storks - from the Jurong Bird Park. It eventually turned up at a Chua Chu Kang farm.

Another great escape took place four years later when the Singapore Zoo's black panther, Twiggy, made a bid for freedom in March 1973. It remained at large until the following February, and was eventually cornered and killed in a monsoon drain.

Then there was the time that Singapore's much-loved star orang utan was on a film shoot at MacRitchie Reservoir in 1982. The plan was to shoot Ah Meng half-way up a tree.

But the Zoo's poster girl had other ideas. Ah Meng climbed to the top, and stayed there for three days before falling off and breaking an arm.

"Ah Meng stages sit-in" was the paper's front page headline on March 30, 1982.

The last wild tiger here is believed to have been shot in Choa Chu Kang in the 1930s.

But in the late 1990s, the big cat made a fleeting appearance in The Straits Times, although perhaps not in Singapore. On April 29, 1997, the paper reported the police advising people to stay away from Pulau Ubin after a grandmother hunting for clams claimed to have seen a tiger.

Exhaustive searches yielded nothing.

When the newspaper visited the island at the year end, the story was being described as the tallest "tail" of the year. "The only tiger here is Tiger beer," joked one visitor. • ST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'An escape & a sit-in'. Print Edition | Subscribe