Yesterday evening, I met 14 undergraduates from biology with an interest to learn more about the subject and who want to make some contribution to conservation. Exhausted from two weeks of preparing the honours students for their oral exams on top of everything else, I was quite exhausted. Still this had been a long time coming and the Toddycats Manpower Captain (3rd year undergraduate) Grace Lo, would be relieved we were finally gathering after extensive procastination!
I asked them to arrange themselves into a circle which they did quite speedily – so that was promising! During introductions, I interjected comments and began to feel hopeful. The students, who were all in their 1st and 2nd year of biology, came from a diversity of interests – some are more research-inclined, others have an interest in communication while others look to be happy generalists who can apply themselves in any situation.
I talked about what we could do;
 Learning through interaction – [Toddycats Engage!]
There is a lot of information on the internet but nothing beats hearing news face to face. This is meant to be a conversation rather thana lecture so there will have to be a preliminary agenda at least so we can read up briefly. This will also be a good opportunity to invite people down for a conversation or to share movies we can never show in class for lack of time or talk about things we have encountered or read about in the month that has passed.
 Learning through discovery – [Toddycats Discovery]
Students can organise field trips based on suggestion and invite the grad students or lecturers along – e.g. bird watching on the Southern Ridges, listening for bats and looking for other fauna on Kent Ridge, the Lower Peirce boardwalk at night and horseshose crab rescue in Mandai mangroves (potentially a project on its own). This is the sort of field exposure that allowed us to help our seniors and phrase research questions easily in our senior years as undergraduates. This is also intended to get them to organise.
This group will begin with an evening field trip to Kent Ridge to listen to bats with the new bat detectors – we can figure if my earlier recces of the best spots pan out under their scrutiny. They can next plot wildlife sightings in NUS as a guide for other students. After all, not even all of them could say they have seen a changeable lizard on campus before (Calotes versicolor), let alone figure out its ecology. So that will make discovery easy and enjoyable – a fun stage in their journey to be in.
 Action – [See Dugongs]
An obvious beginning to quick and immediate action is to form a team of five to guide – at the Raffles Museum’s Public Gallery (which one of them called a white elephant after seeing it empty when he visited one day) and at public exhibitions, using specimens from the museum and department.
Each person is to begin with just two specimens for a combined total of 10 specimens explained/team. I will have to train and asses the teams but I can ask their seniors for help. They will get a chance to apply their new talents at a few occasions:
- The after-term lunch-time tours for NUS staff are to be revivved.
- Support for specific events like International Museum Day
- Collaborate with NUSSU SAVE to showcase local biodiversity during their Green Carnival
- A beginning of term exhibition at Science and/or Central Libraries. In future to liase with clubs and societies during orientation week.
 Action – International Coastal Cleanup Singapore
Site Captains are desperately needed! This work requires email interaction with organisers and a site visit or two. They will have a Zone Captain for backup so there is safety net.
 Action – regional help
Second year student Ong Say Lin and friends will be volunteering with sun bear researcher Wong Siew Te. We hope to suggest dependable students to Siew Te annually to provide dependable, volunteer support. Toddycats with field experience and exposure to issues could be helpful.
I rounded up the session by sharing about the project-based nature of our work – we avoid crippling demands on a person’s time but require communication, reliability and sustainability. That did not faze all of them. By the time I reached home, one of them had already posted enthusiastically on facebook.
I started out in conservation like this, at their age, through the Biological Science Society. Those experiences imbued with me with skills I have applied in a variety of crises for the better. Let’s hope they get a kick start too.
– N. Sivasothi a.k.a. Otterman