Help for 46 species of plants and animals threatened with extinction in Singapore

A rare sea creature once thought to be globally extinct was recently re-discovered in Singapore waters to the delight of many scientists. But the better news is that the species seems to be doing well here.
A specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge being relocated to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, as part of NParks' species recovery efforts.
A specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge being relocated to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, as part of NParks' species recovery efforts. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
A specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge being relocated to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, as part of NParks' species recovery efforts.
A specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge being relocated to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, as part of NParks' species recovery efforts.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
 The Banded Leaf Monkey is facing a risk of extinction as there are only about 40 left in the wild.
The Banded Leaf Monkey is facing a risk of extinction as there are only about 40 left in the wild. PHOTO: ANDIE ANG HUI FANG
A Sunda pangolin at the Night Safari.
A Sunda pangolin at the Night Safari. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Nature may be creeping back into the Republic's urban cityscape, but help will be given to some plants and animals which are now threatened with extinction.

In all, 46 species of plants and animals - 31 plant species, seven terrestrial animal species and eight marine species - have been identified by the National Parks Board (NParks) for species recovery efforts.

These targets were announced on Saturday (Sept 3) by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for National Development, during the annual Festival of Biodiversity educational fair which this year was held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

These efforts will be conducted over the next two to 10 years, and will include scientific research and field studies into each species. Information gleaned from such studies will help scientists learn more about how each species interacts with their environment, and the role they play in the ecosystem. This will inform decisions on how best an animal or plant can be released or replanted into the wild, without affecting the other flora and fauna in that environment.

One of the species identified for recovery efforts, for instance, is the pixie dragonfly. This dragonfly is classified as endangered in Singapore, as it has less than 250 mature individuals here. In fact, according to NParks manager for conservation Robin Ngiam, who studies dragonflies, they can be found only in one pond in western Singapore.

But they play an important role in the ecosystem. Not only are they a bioindicator of clean water, they are also natural pest busters - dragonfly nymphs feed on mosquito larvae, and adult dragonflies feed on adult mosquitos. So as part of efforts to increase their numbers and safeguard their existence here, scientists have released the dragonfly nymphs, as well as adult dragonflies, into one test site in central Singapore, which they are monitoring.

Another animal identified for recovery efforts is the rare Neptune's cup sponge - a marine organism once thought to be globally extinct. The first time the sponge made an appearance after it disappeared for over a century was right here in Singapore in 2011. Scientists had discovered two sponges in the waters surrounding Singapore's St John's Island. However, only one individual could be re-located by divers, due to murky waters and low visibility. In 2014, another sponge was found in a lagoon at the offshore Semakau landfill. It was last year (2015) moved to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

"As part of our species recovery programme, we wanted to move the one we found in 2011 to the one in Sisters' Islands, so we did a survey to make sure it was in good condition and that we could move it," Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, told The Straits Times.

But during that dive, NParks' researchers enjoyed good visibility underwater, and found the 'lost' sponge from 2011.

"The better news is that because the visibility was good, we did a broader survey, and we found two more! So currently, in Singapore we have five individuals that we know of - we know where they are, and we can monitor them," said Dr Tun.

Dr Tun said the next step in the species recovery programme is to see if the five sponges can be used as a breeding stock to help re-populate Singapore's waters.

"Our biodiversity is a national treasure. I know that it is something that everyone here wants to nurture and protect," said Mr Lee.

During the event, NParks also gave updates on the biodiversity survey that commenced in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in March 2015. Several rare flora and fauna, once thought to be extinct, have been discovered so far. They include the Malayan porcupine and slender walking catfish. Researchers have also discovered five potentially new species of spiders and a new record of a climbing plant from the Aroid family.