On this beautiful sunny afternoon of August 7, I had the privilege of accompanying Dr. Jane Goodall and the JGIS management team on a trek through the wilderness of Windsor Nature Park on a quest to know more about the macaques in Singapore. Before the walk began, Serin Subaraj, an animal lover, and herpetologist helped scout for the monkeys.
We didn’t even know if we would actually spot any monkeys as it had rained in the morning but Serin kept us entertained as he imparted his knowledge on the various forest creatures. We encountered a wild boar and saw and learnt about four-ridged toads that hide under leaves on boulders, plantain squirrels that jump from trees to the ground in search of food and forest cockroaches that roam the leaf covered forest floor. Tree hugging dragon-flies flew around us as we walked and we saw a copper-cheeked frog sitting idly on a leaf and a beautiful emerald dove that showed off her wings as she flew from branch to branch. Dr. Jane was enthralled by the biodiversity and her curiosity made me curious about our little red dot and its rich biodiversity.
After a short boardwalk and passing by the freshwater creek we turned to a dirt track that led deeper into the forest and toward our final destination… the area with the long tailed macaques of Singapore. We heard them before we saw them and it was a troop of about 10 to 15 macaques including the alpha male, females, children and even little babies. When here, our monkey expert and primatologist, Sabrina Jabbar, told us more about the macaques. They were jumping to and from the trees, swinging from one branch to the other while growling and smacking their lips at each other; a trait that functions to coordinate and prolong social grooming between them. Sabrina also told us about how tough it is to be a male macaque in trying to gain acceptance from females and babies in order to join the troop. This is the only way for a male macaque to gain the post of alpha male after migrating for a while from group to group.
The macaques practically flew around the place, going up and down the trees, and even getting close enough for us to snap pictures of them. They were as inquisitive of us as we were of them. A few of the children had climbed up on the branches above our heads and started shaking the branches and leaves at us to gauge our reactions. This behaviour meant that they were trying to be the bigger animal and show that they were not afraid of us. We had a few laughs about this but soon left them to their own devices so as to not intrude on their home. Dr Jane was delighted to see the macaques in their natural habitat and talked to us more about the behaviour of monkeys.
We made our way back after observing and admiring the macaques in their natural habitat. Dr Andie Ang, Vice-president of JGIS, and another primatologist in our group emphasised the need to better understand macaque behaviour in order to avoid misjudging their expressions (i.e. showing of teeth) and to coexist in a better way with them. This reminded me of how important it is to work with the community to enable people to take care of and live in harmony the environment and its species.
“The least I can do is speak out for those who can’t speak out for themselves.”
Jane’s words keep echoing in my mind on how we need to grow into a much more holistic and harmonious society wherein one can wander free with the wild and the wild can roam free within their world. I learnt that Dr. Jane is truly a free spirit and a fierce role model to many.
Written by Arshia Bhatnagar. Edited by Priya Shreedhar and Andrea Vincent.