LIVING HISTORY

Wild times

Wild elephants being rounded up by a Malaysian wildlife team on Pulau Tekong. First sighted there by NSmen in May 1990, they had apparently swum across from Johor. They were later relocated to the Endau Rompin National Park in Malaysia.
Wild elephants being rounded up by a Malaysian wildlife team on Pulau Tekong. First sighted there by NSmen in May 1990, they had apparently swum across from Johor. They were later relocated to the Endau Rompin National Park in Malaysia.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ZOO
Tigers have the honour of being the most frequently mentioned animal in The Straits Times - both caged and uncaged. On March 24, 1935, one even took top billing on the newspaper's cover, in a local story about a tracker who had trailed it for a week.
Tigers have the honour of being the most frequently mentioned animal in The Straits Times - both caged and uncaged. On March 24, 1935, one even took top billing on the newspaper's cover, in a local story about a tracker who had trailed it for a week.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Jungle giants revealed a hidden aspect of Singapore

The creatures seemed to have materialised from nowhere, on Pulau Tekong, an island used by the Singapore Armed Forces for training. They were clearly not denizens of the sea: Trampled grass showed large footprints, coconut trees lay uprooted and big droppings had been left behind. A group of national servicemen first spotted the jungle giants around the end of May 1990 and reported the sighting to incredulous officers. Officials from the Defence Ministry and the Singapore Zoo made several trips to the island, but saw nothing.

The Zoo analysed the dung and confirmed it had come from elephants - which, it emerged, had swum the 1.5km expanse from Johor. The three wild elephants had probably been driven away by forest-clearing and logging in Johor, the officials surmised.

For the Singapore Armed Forces, these animals in their training ground were a jumbo-sized problem. But Singaporeans could not get enough of the unexpected visitors. The solution, in the end, was a new home in a Malaysian forest reserve. After a brief stay here, from late May to June 10, the bull elephants were captured with the help of Malaysian wildlife experts and taken by lorry to Endau Rompin National Park on the border of Johor and Pahang, where they were released.

The visitors left, but revealed a hitherto hidden aspect of Singapore. "Singaporeans do care - some even passionately - about conservation of wildlife even though they live in a highly urbanised country," The Straits Times observed in a report on June 18.

Singaporeans do care - some even passionately - about conservation of wildlife even though they live in a highly urbanised country," The Straits Times observed in a report on June 18, 1990.

  • 1945

    JAPANESE SURRENDER

    World War II ends abruptly on August 15 when the Japanese surrender. On September 3, the last two-page issue of The Syonan Shimbun is released, bearing the news: World At Peace Again. Formal Surrender Of Japan Concluded.

    Two Japanese war correspondents from Domei News Agency arrive to facilitate the handover of resources, including equipment and Reuters news services access, for the resumption of The Straits Times.

    Arson, looting and rioting takes place all over Singapore. But the Straits Times premises emerge unscathed, thanks to staff who place themselves in potential peril.

    On September 7, the rst post-war issue of The Straits Times is published. It describes itself as “Malaya’s Leading Newspaper – Established 1845”, and bears the headline: Singapore Is British Again! Our Day Of Liberation!

A soft spot for the Republic's diverse flora and fauna has often motivated Singaporeans to launch conservation campaigns, such as the one in 1986 to save the bird haven of Sungei Buloh, home to more than 200 avian species, as well as a few saltwater crocodiles. In another instance, passionate nature lovers worked with the authorities to preserve Chek Jawa in 2001, an oasis on Pulau Ubin so untouched that it offers a glimpse of what Singapore's shores might have looked like before the 1950s.

Meticulous planning as well as research, public education, reforestation and clean-up projects have also led to a few success stories for local wildlife.

The oriental pied hornbill, for example, had disappeared at one time. But it was taken from captivity to help strengthen numbers of Singapore's native creatures and is now a fairly common sight in parks here.

In recent years, families of the critically endangered, smooth-coated otter have begun charming visitors with their antics in mangroves, coastal areas and even urban parks and drains. But perhaps the honour of being the most frequently mentioned animal in The Straits Times should go to the tiger. Singapore's first zoo, established on the grounds of the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1875, housed a tiger. On May 18, 1896, a reader wrote in to The Straits Times to complain of animal cruelty. But he did not mean the tiger - he was distressed about a live dog being put in the cage to feed it. "Can you not break a lance in your much-read paper for our faithful quadruped friends?" the writer asked.

More often, however, stories in The Straits Times were about tigers of the uncaged variety.

"Excursionists to Changhie may, if so inclined, have a tiger hunt," began an article on April 3, 1875. It was a short report, unusually so given its grave content, about the appearance of the "Pulo Obin man-eater", who had already killed a man. The animal had been seen by a policeman as he went about "trimming the lamp". In days when there was no electricity, this meant trimming the wick of street lamps, to keep the flame burning clean and bright.

WILD TIMES continued...

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Wild times'. Print Edition | Subscribe