MacRitchie for Beginners

written by Chia Pui San, a Fourth Year CNM Undergraduate, NUS

I’ll be very honest and admit that even though I live close to MacRitchie, I haven’t been there for at least five years. You see, being a fourth year university student was a convenient excuse as to why I should spend my times indoors “doing work” over checking out MacRitchie.

Trees, animals and the Treetop Walk; that was about the sum total of my knowledge about MacRitchie. I heard about how the construction of the proposed Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) would tunnel under MacRitchie and about how it would affect the biodiversity of the forest. But biodiversity meant nothing to me since one plant looked like another, and the only animals I knew that lived in the forest were squirrels and monkeys. How wrong I was. On my group’s adventure through the Venus Loop trail of MacRitchie, the competent guides of the Love MacRitchie team showed us a whole new world and unbelievable sights (who needs Aladdin?).

We gathered at Venus Drive carpark bright and early on Saturday. Our guided walk began with Chloe, who is the project manager of the Love MacRitchie initiative, and one of our guides for the day, pointing out “smothering plants”. These plants included the Zanzibar yam, better described to the non-nature enthusiasts as the ‘batman plant’ due to the shape of its leaves, and the mile-a-minute plant (which apparently grows at that pace!). If only I could write my assignments as fast as that plant grows, gosh. No prizes for guessing why these plants are called “smothering plants”. They literally kill off the other plants by smothering them – either by surrounding them or by preventing sunlight from getting to them.

zanzibar yam

the Zanzibar Yam plant, one of the “smothering plants” in the MacRitchie forest (image credit: Philip Lim)

Much of our trail walk went like that. Learning about the plants was a lot more interesting than I expected. Did you know that the rubber tree is not native to Singapore or even Southeast Asia? It actually originates from Brazil. Eleven seeds were brought to Singapore from England and basically spawned all the rubber trees in Singapore!

Also, did you know that MacRitchie is a legitimate forest?! I knew we always went on about being the Garden City, but I thought it referred more to the trees growing by the roadside. I mean, seriously, a forest in Singapore? Who would have expected it? Not me  (yes I’m a year 4 student)! In fact, Singapore’s forest reserves occupy only 2.5% of land area but contain over 50% species that are native to Singapore! Despite its size, it retains the characteristics of a tropical rainforest. How cool is that, our little overachiever of a nation – even the forests are overachievers.

So the plants were cool enough, but our guides also spotted a lot of animals and insects and tried to point them out to us. To the untrained eye, it was really like a game of Where’s Wally. Our group must have been quite a sight actually. Imagine nine of us squinting into the distance trying to spot the elusive, camouflaged animal or insect – and once someone spots it, you’ll hear his or her triumphant “I SEE IT!!” while the rest continue to angle their gaze to find it.

One of the animals we spotted was the Pin-striped Tit Babbler – I know right, striped what? The bird is named for its yellow breast and the sounds it makes. It usually gathers in groups around low vegetation (birds of the same feather flock together much? Way to prove a stereotype) and in doing so, it disturbs the vegetation such that the insects hiding in it fly out. So the opportunistic other birds swoop in and their meal’s settled. Smart of them, don’t you think?

tit babbler

the Pin Striped Tit Babbler (image credit: Jensen) 

The Pin-striped Tit Babbler is also one of many the forest-dependent species in MacRitchie. Much like how many Singaporeans are air-conditioning-dependent and can only function properly in air-conditioned places, these creatures can only survive in the forest. So no forest = none of these species. One of these forest-dependent species is the Johnson’s Freshwater Crab, which quite amazingly, is Uniquely Singapore: it can only found in the freshwater streams in the Central Catchment, including MacRitchie. Think about what that means for the crab when its home is disrupted by construction of the CRL.

johnson_freshwater_crab

the Johnson’s Freshwater Crab (image credit: Choy Heng Wah)

In a mere two hours through MacRitchie, I noticed more plants, animals and insects than I have in my entire life. There really is a lot about MacRitchie that so many people don’t see because they simply don’t know it exists in Singapore. Help ensure that the MacRitchie that we have today will remain the way it is by signing the petition: http://tinyurl.com/lta-crl

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