What a blast it has been for the Raffles Museum Toddycats at the inaugural Festival of Biodiversity! Held at the Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens on the 26th and 27th of May 2012, the Festival was organised with the aim of celebrating our local biodiversity, and to be a platform of engagement for the community to share their love for our natural heritage.
The Raffles Museum Toddycats were one of the many groups that were involved in the Interactive Booth Exhibition, along with other organisations including the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), ButterflyCircle, Cicada Tree Eco-Place, Nature Photographic Society (Singapore) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Thanks to the tireless efforts of all the participants, including volunteers representing many different areas of interest, as well as the support from members of the public, the Festival was an unforgettable and enriching experience for all who were involved.
We had been working very hard behind the scenes to prepare for this momentous occasion; not only did we need to get permission from the Museum to bring along more specimens for our booth (with the promise that we would take good care of them!) and coordinate transportation of the specimens and other items, we also had to ensure that we had sufficient volunteer guides, and ensure that they went through a training session to equip them with the content, skills, and confidence in sharing stories and communicating information with members of the public. One of our coordinators, Meryl Theng aka Ottergirl, also took the effort to create a brand new poster, featuring some of our fascinating native mammals such as mousedeer, pangolins, wild boar, and common palm civets, which can still be found in our forests, and are sometimes even encountered in residential areas!
This time around, our booth featured a wide range of species representing all major habitats found in Singapore. From marine creatures of the coral reefs and seagrass meadows, to those specialised for mangrove habitats, and from denizens of our reservoirs and rivers to forest inhabitants and urban survivors, these specimens were just a small sample of the dazzling array of animal species present in Singapore.
It’s not just furry and cute mammals; sea stars and the often attractive shells of some snails and clams featured prominently over at the corner where we displayed our selection of marine animals.
Given that we were on the upper level of the Botany Centre, visitor traffic was slow at first on the first morning, so we soon set up a makeshift station with some teasers to lure the public upstairs, with the promise of even more amazing and fascinating stories to share about Singapore’s wildlife.
An amazing crowd eventually gathered to enjoy a fun-filled couple of days of nature activities and interaction with our engaging volunteers. As numbers swelled, the Toddycats, comprising volunteer guides from all walks of life, encompassing veterans who have been guiding for decades to new members guiding for the first time, all rose to the challenge with great enthusiasm and passion. Many of us were on our feet and talking nearly non-stop for hours, yet spirits remained high and the energy was infectious. Even as evening fell and most other groups packed up, some of the Toddycats still continued to share stories about Singapore’s wildlife with passers-by.
Some of the stories shared included highlighting some of the birds commonly encountered in urban neighbourhoods, parks, and gardens, such as the Asian koel, black-naped oriole, and collared kingfisher, the possible threats posed by non-native species (as shown by specimens of the changeable lizard and American bullfrog), to the several different crab species that can be found living in the mangroves, some of which are familiar to those who love seafood. Not only did we marvel the masses with our amazing array of specimens, we also enlightened them about our enduring conservation efforts to protect our local natural heritage. These include long-term efforts such as International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, the Singapore Hornbill Project, and Operation No Release.
Some curious members of the public also gave us the opportunity to talk about preservation techniques used by museums, from skulls and skeletons to taxidermied mammals and stuffed birds, to wet specimens floating in jars of ethanol. The use of chemicals also explains why we often had to remind our fellow guides and visitors to wash their hands if they had handled any of our specimens, whether it was dried sea star specimen, or holding a jar of archerfish.
The Guest-of-Honour for the event was President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who delightedly visited the Raffles Museum Toddycats booth and received excellent guidance to our delectable range of specimens from veteran Toddycats, Tze Kwan and Weiting.
Later on, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Tan Chuan-Jin also visited the booth, and he was especially captivated by our Asian small-clawed otter specimen.
The Festival of Biodiversity was undoubtedly one of our most successful public outreach ever conducted. Families and individuals of all ages were deeply thrilled and awed by their encounters with specimens of animals that they have hardly seen roaming wild in Singapore. Both inquisitive children and adults were well pleased by our story-sharing efforts and left in wide-eye wonder, hopefully with a better impression of the importance of biodiversity conservation.
After guiding on both days, Toddycats Qi Qi reflected and found the experience extremely gratifying. “Not only did I get to share Singapore’s fauna species with the public, I got to learn from their various experiences too. Compared to the previous few outreach events that I have volunteered for, there were many more specimens that were brought to this Festival. Besides our iconic baby dugong, the taxidermized specimens were also presented there. A few examples would include the common palm civet, a.k.a. Toddycat, leopard cat and pangolin.”
“Many visitors were surprised and awed by the specimens and some of them even asked if the specimens were real. To say that our specimens interested them would be an understatement.”
It was with heavy hearts as we packed up the specimens and finally closed the booth on Sunday evening, after two entire days of outreach. We were glad that the efforts over the last few months had finally come to fruition and created a stunning success for the Toddycats, but for many of us, we had truly been bitten by the guiding bug and wished that things didn’t have to end so soon. More importantly, many more people left the Botanic Gardens having learnt more about Singapore’s biodiversity, and the often rare and endangered species that have managed to survive here.
Indeed, the Festival of Biodiversity was a great avenue for people to learn about Singapore’s natural heritage and its various inhabitants. It has extended its educational reach to both young and old alike, and hopefully will delight more people in the future. We’re certainly looking forward to the next available opportunity to get out there with our specimens, and reach out to more people, to get them to understand what’s at stake when we discuss issues such as waste disposal, habitat conservation and urban development.
We would like to extend our deepest thanks to all our volunteers for making this event possible! Because of all your hard work and effort, Raffles Museum Toddycats! engaged more than 1,000 people over the span of two days! Thank you Kelvin Lim and Wang Luan Keng from RMBR for helping us prepare the wide variety of specimens that were showcased during the event. Each of you helped raise the awareness of local biodiversity and made a difference!
Catch Raffles Museum Toddycats! in action at the next Festival of Biodiversity!