After a closure of six months announced on June 2014, the Summit Trail of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has been opened to visitors from 4th April 2015 on weekends from 7am-6pm (last entry at 5pm). On the 26th of April, Joelle Lai (Toddycats coordinator), Law Ing Sind, Becky Lee, Ng Kai Scene and myself went to BTNR for the Toddycats afternoon shift o the Bukit Timah Patrol or ‘jagah duty’ as Sivasothi aka Otterman has branded it.
Armed with nothing but NParks Volunteer Badges, we climbed Bukit Timah Hill. Along the way, Joelle explained that we would be ensuring that nobody was going off the trails and that everybody had left the reserve by 6.00pm. As it was our first time, we were slightly worried. However, we were also eager to do our part. Ing Sind, Joelle and I kept watch at the summit, while Becky and Kai Scene positioned themselves at the base of the stairs. We also advised the public about the correct behaviour when encountering macaques!
It was an uneventful afternoon. Toddycats’ first instruction is to greet visitors with a big smile and most visitors are co-operative. Despite the skies threatening to pour, it never actually rained. Eventually, at 4.30pm, it was time to swap positions and Ing Sind, Becky and I went down to patrol the trail.
Well, well, we had a brilliant herping streak! Our first herp was a Peninsular Rock Gecko, (Cnemaspis peninsularis) resting on a tree at the base of the summit. On the other side of the trail, we saw a Five Banded Gliding Lizard (Draco quinquefasciatus) resting on the trunk of a tall tree. We took that opportunity to point it out to the passers-by. Just 20 meters down the road, Ing Sind stopped in his tracks and pointed out a Brown Tree Skink (Dasia grisea) on the trunk of a tree.
After finishing the patrol, we returned to the summit. Near the end, Ing Sind and I noticed some people photographing something in the foliage. We got there just in time to see a Blue Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis cyanochloris) slipping away. We happily went to report to Joelle. At 5.30 pm, we ended our duty by closing the summit trail. To top off the day’s herping, the same couple who had found the Blue Bronzeback had found a juvenile Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)!
After photographing the viper for a while, we proceeded back to the entrance, advising stragglers we encountered about the reserve’s closing time of 6pm.
We had a wonderful time – we had observed five herptiles (of which three were rare) in just an hour! BTNR is undoubtedly a valuable Nature Reserve. It was closed to allow the ecosystem to recuperate from the heavy usage, as well as to allow for slope stabilisation works. While many people who visit Bukit Timah come to enjoy the natural beauty, some may try to take advantage of the system. The ‘jagah’ duty allows us to ensure that our nature reserve is not abused and that the BTNR ecosystem remains healthy!