Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The great 'musang' stakeout

The aim: To observe the Toddy Cat's population size and habits
Ang Yiying, Straits Times 30 Nov 09;

MRS Janet Chaw thought her son had heard one too many bedtime stories when he started telling her about a creature he was seeing around their neighbourhood about four years ago.

It had the face of a possum, the ears of a cat, and the tail of a monkey.

'We thought he was joking,' said Mrs Chaw, a housewife in her 40s, 'until my husband saw it. Later, I saw it for myself.'

She spotted it one morning about two years ago when it was walking on the top of the wall separating her house and the vacant house next door. 'I was a bit scared. I thought it might harm us, but my son said it was the animal he had been seeing.'

Patting Wei Yang, now nine, on his back, she said: 'Mummy believes you now!'

Down the street from them, Dr Ooi Teik Huat, 62, has also seen it. He had put out traps for stray animals whose droppings he had noticed in his garden.

The traps caught something unexpected, two or three of them within a few months. He said, 'They were greyish and definitely not domestic but wild animals.'

What he and the Chaws saw was the musang, a species of civet believed to be the last, wild small carnivore left in Singapore.

Also known as the Singapore Toddy Cat or Asian Palm Civet, it averages 3.2kg, with a body length of 53cm and a tail almost as long as its body (48cm).

According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), members of the public have turned over more than 20 musangs each year in the last couple of years.

Some 90 per cent have come from the Siglap and Opera Estate area, said an AVA spokesman.

And that is where a musang stakeout is currently being carried out, by a team from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the National University of Singapore's (NUS) department of biological sciences.

The main people working on the project, the animal management officer at the Night Safari, Mr Abdul Razak Jaffar, 29, and NUS department of biological sciences student Xu Weiting, 22, have been spending their free time and weekends at the estate. They also tap on a pool of volunteers made up of more than 10 Night Safari and Zoo staff and Ms Xu's course mates and friends.

For this month, the small group has been attempting to sight the creatures in the Siglap and Opera Estate area - sometimes all night - to determine their population size and habits.

So far, it has been unable to determine their number but the survey will go on at least until January.

Starting from last month, the group has been to the area at least nine times to note down where the fruit trees - a source of food for the musangs - were


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