One hour of Herps: Jagah Duty at BTNR

Jagah [jah-gah] (v) : To guard, take care of.

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Picture courtesy of Joelle from the Toddycats!

Becky, Ing Sind and I signed up to do Jagah duty at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on the 26th of April 2015. We turned up at Hindhede Road at 2pm to get briefed. We were, of course excited about the job at hand. But we were also nervous. Trying to look confident, we climbed the hill. With us, were Joelle and Kai Scene from the Toddycats!

Ing Sind, Joelle and I stayed on the summit to guard against illegal entry and to advise the public about appropriate behaviour when dealing with the resident macaques. Becky and Kai Scene were stationed at the foot of the summit. We spent a few uneventful hours there. All the visitors were very co-operative and friendly! There were no incidents with the macaques either.

At the end of the first half of our shift, Becky, Ing Sind and I decided to patrol the foot of the summit to ensure no illegal activity. What followed was an hour of opportunistic DSC07263herping. As we reached the foot of the stairs leading to the summit, I saw a Peninsular Rock Gecko (Cnemaspis peninsularis), with its tail coiled, sitting on a large tree trunk! Almost immediately after that, Ing Sind spotted a Five Banded Gliding Lizard (Draco quinquefasciatus) resting on a nearby tree with its patagium flared slightly. We took the opportunity to point it out to some passers-by.

As we walked on, Ing Sind spotted a Brown Tree Skink (Dasia grisea) slowly DSC07269climbing up the trunk of another tree. Despite its diurnal habits, this lizard is rarely seen. It is a resident of lowland secondary and primary forests. We proceeded with the patrol and found nothing suspicious. Becky then mentioned that Ing Sind and she had seen a Clouded Monitor (Varanus nebulosus) before I had arrived that day. It dawned on us that we had seen representatives from the major lizard families that can be found in Singapore in a single day: Varanidae, Gekkonidae, Agamidae and Scincidae. Impressed with the day’s herp turnout, we turned back.

It only got better. Back at the summit, we noticed  a group of visitors pointingIMG_9159 and taking pictures of something in the undergrowth. Intrigued, we ran over, only to see the tail of a Blue Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis cyanochloris) as it disappeared into the brush.

At 5.30pm, we began the end of day duty to close the summit trail. As we walked DSC07270down, we saw two visitors looking at a small plant next to the staircase. A closer look revealed it to be a juvenile Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)! We were ecstatic! After admiring the viper for a while, we continued to the entrance, ensuring that all the visitors had left the reserve by 6pm.

We saw 5 herps (3 of which are relatively rare) in an hour. I think that speaks volumes about the importance of maintaining the health of BTNR. It is a great place to jog and spend time with friends and family. But the reserve is also a home to a great diversity of living things (not just the herps). While certain spaces are closed for slope stabilisation and forest restoration, we should respect the opening hours and the designated boundaries. BTNR is for the animals AND for the people. Let’s keep it that way for as long as possible.

Note: Since April 4, BTNR has been accessible to the public via Hindhede Nature Park from 7am-6pm on weekends only. The last admission to the reserve is at 5pm.

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