Saturday, June 02, 2007


(Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Entrance)

Many Singaporeans have heard of Sungei Buloh but many of them have not yet visited the place, including most of my colleagues at the company I work. We are all aviators but not all animal lovers. One weekend we set of on a trip to the North Western part of Singapore, mentioned in detail in Snapshot – 3, my previous post. Getting there by public transportation is the same as getting to Bollywood veggies, in fact, Sungei Buloh is the first stop on the bus after Kranji MRT.

(Monitor Lizards aplenty)

Sungei Buloh wetland reserve is the only place in Singapore where estuarine crocodiles exist. The park officials are not sure how many there are exactly and they are always looking for volunteers to help spot them. The trouble is, is that these animals are very elusive. What you will find in plenty, are birds, fish (mud fish in particular), during low tides, water monitor lizards and mosquitoes! It is a wetland reserve after all. Last time I saw plenty of mud fish was while taking a boat ride on the Malacca River in Malacca, Malaysia.

Sungei Buloh wetland reserve has a website that describes in detail about the park and its activities. A link with pictures about the Kranji bus service is also available on their site:

We did a lot of trekking through the park, on well marked and maintained trails. The park has put up enough observation shelters where one can “hide” and watch the wildlife in action. Wetland reserves are a very important part of the eco-system. In a steel and glass city state like Singapore, this is hardly what one expects but it is here all right, waiting for wildlife enthusiasts to come and leave behind only their footprints and nothing else please. We visited mid afternoon and thanks to the trees, shrubs and water all around, the heat wasn’t oppressive and there was plenty of natural shade on the walking trails.

(Did not see this guy, just the sign board warning that he is around)

I have to make repeated trips there for sure. My day will be made when I spot at least one croc in the wild here at the Sungei Buloh reserve. I’ve seen them everywhere else, but not here, not so far.

(Mud fish, posing for me)

Monitor lizards are found in good numbers in Singapore, even in Seletar Camp, a part of the Seletar Airport. A close encounter with one of them, a baby actually, got me to do some research and visit the Sungei Buloh wetland reserve. Apparently these creatures (Asian Monitors) were found all over Asia in the past, including India where they have now been reduced to almost nothing, population wise. India’s growing poachers, lack of will and general apathy has led to the decline of even the greatest of them all – the tiger. What chance does a monitor lizard have? Hunted for their meat and skins just as other species, they are marked for extinction there. Interestingly, they don’t figure on the endangered species list either.

A general tip: wear loose clothing, full arm if possible and ensure that you have drinking water, mozzie spray and sunblock if you are prone to burning up easily. It is a good idea anyway.

(Monitor basking on an incline)

(Part of the reserve from the Tower)

(One of the Observation Towers)

The visitor center has a museum of sorts, and class rooms where educational programs are conducted about the reserve. The area around the visitor center is literally crawling with Monitor lizards and some of them are really big.

(Monitor who chased people! Never seen that before!)

When leaving the reserve, we saw a big monitor, like Godzilla, charge a group of visitors and sent them running on the boardwalk, screaming. It was a mock charge of course, it’s their territory and they don’t want us invading, for sure. For my close encounter with what’s almost certain to be our mascot, a baby monitor at Seletar, that’s a short post coming up in a couple of days.


Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

I really find monitor lizards interesting. It's not that they are good looking, but the fact that I haven't really seen one up close. It seems Monitor lizards are part of karnataka's forests too, but as you have said, they are depleting, because I haven't seen one anywhere! Also, I have read that the villagers of Malnad region of karnataka eat these creatures...i guess that's why they are not seen anymore. The photos were really nice.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

True Lakshmi, the monitor is hunted for its meat and skin. I actually thought these creatures would be revered in India because they have a place in India's folklore. I am refering to Shivaji Maharaj and his conquest of the Sinhagad fort that had passed on to Mughal hands. This fort was impregnable because it was surrounded by steep inclines. Shivaji's trusted general Tanaji went on to use a "Ghorpad" (Marathi for Monitor Lizard), tied a rope around its waist and bade it to run up the slope. Apparently the monitor did that and secured itself using its talons and the first batch of men climbed the incline and threw down more ropes for others to climb. Incidently, the Ghorpad that was used for this mission was Shivaji's own pet and it's name was Yaswanthi. It was instrumental in securing one of Shivaji's most famous victories as a Maratha King.
Tanaji was killed in battle and supposedly his bust has been errected there.

As for keeping Monitors as pets, the Nile variety and the Savannah ones (found in Africa) are exported to many countries, the USA being a top destination. Monitors are not like dogs and cats and exotic pets make difficult rearing for sure. As for me, I can't understand the need for transplanting wildlife from forests to homes but this is a Worldwide trade.

The monitors here (Asian monitors) can grow up to 7 feet long. I have seen people mistaking monitors for crocs!

Keshavan said...

Dear Mr Murthy

I am a resident of Singapore since 1982. Singapore is a very small island mainly urban. I have been to
the the semi-urban places you describe and they are nothing but 'token places' which even Singapore government will admit are not rural /country side, and perhaps not worth describing in a blog like this. There are no significant contrasts in landscape in Singapore. I have relatives in Mysore where I was born and educated. From what they are saying now in a few years Mysore outreaches too would be heaviliy urbanised.

Perhaps you could write your experience as a city dweller in Singapore which Mysoreans would find it interesting. Chettiars once dominated the pawn-broking market in Singapore, and their history is worth blogging. People like Alagappa Chettiar who donated money to build educational institutions in Tamil Nadu made his fortune in old Malaya and Singapore. Chettiars'heritage in Malaya and Singapore is a forerunner to modern financial institutions in this part of the world. This should be more interesting than the 'pseudo' countryside chats.

Quodlibet said...

It looks beautiful! I've never seen one of those lizards, only tiny ones when I lived in Australia. I've certainly never been chased by one! I have been attacked by an emu however!!

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks Mr. Keshavan. Firstly, any patch of grass me is wilderness and i am passionate about wildlife and open spaces.

There's not much to write about city life here in Singapore. I have lived in NY, Miami, Seattle, London over the period of more than 2 decades so Singapore as a city does not interest me so much and hence I rarely write about it. I have something I want to write about Clarke Quay and events that took place there recently and also about the month long Singapore Arts festival going on now.

I came to Singapore first in 1984 on a India-Singapore Government sponorship. I have seen the changes over the years and you are right, it has been mainly in urbanization and cityscape. Still, monitor lizards that lurk around my office at Seletar Airport excites me more than hanging out in the city.

The subject of Chettiars in Singapore and their rich history and contribution is indeed interesting. That subject would need extensive research, I'd be glad to, if I could find an original source. I don't want to get info from the net and reproduce the same. If you have any leads, please let me know and I'll gladly do it. Good subject to write and I thank you for your kind comments and suggestion on future topics.

Quodlibet: Thanks. I have some more lizard stories from around here but won't ne long drawn, not too many fans of the monitors other than me and few others. Attacked by an Emu? That would make an interesting blog!

Ling_Tze said...

I heard about Sungei Buloh and although I'm Singaporean, I never been there. I will bring my family there soon to enjoy nature. I disagree with above comment from Kashavan, "uniquely Singapore" campaign from Government is actually trying to attract people to visit such places and their website says"Kranji Countryside". We do have a small countryside for sure but we must treasure it because we have no space otherwise. Please visit Pulau Ubin to the North, there are still kampongs and life when Singapore was in the past. No development and high rise buildings on that island. You may also see lizards of the type you put in the blog.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks, I do want to visit Ubin, my aviator friends have also said the same about Ubin's laidback life and the quiet atmosphere. I should have time to visit there in a week or two. Mr. Keshavan suggested I do a piece on the Chettiars here, good idea too but involves research. He suggested I write about the city but steel and glass does not inspire me but Singapore is blessed with many heritage buildings, often found nestled between tall buildings. I should do a photo essay on this subject.

Tee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Swaram said...

This place is really worth visiting. These creatures seem so interesting. Thanks for the pics Captain. The mud fish one is too gud. U really hv a nice series here on Singapore

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Swaram, thanks very much for visiting my old articles..and taking time to go through them..I feel very honored.

Mangroves and wetland reserves are such an important part of the eco system anywhere, they have realized in Singapore that they need to preserve what little they have. There are a few more places in this tiny Island that is somewhat still pristine and it has taken the Authorities great effort to keep them that way. The idea was to make a city in a park and not the other way around. Wish we can do that in our country, one day it will happen I hope, with young leadership and a will to do things..

flowergirl said...

Thank you for the appropriate link, Capt!

I visited Singapore once, a few years ago, and have to admit I had not heard of Sungei Buloh! We went to the zoo and the bird park, but not this.

I wish I had known....though I am happy that the crocs are elusive!!!

Anyway, I shall unashamedly return the favour, and point you to my encounter with monitor lizards here!

I cant imagine them charging anything, let alone anyone, given the way they just basked at Bharatpur!

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks Flowergirl, I had read that article you wrote on the monitors earlier too but was nice to read and see them again, thanks for that. I left a comment on that article now. Cheers.

Pankaj said...

HI...I am from Maharashtra{Ratnagiri} the place where I live there r some monitor lizards{Ghorpad}...but they r killed for their meat.Please can you help me to save them...or they will be extinct.If anyone can help me to save them the mail me at" "

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Pankaj, sad to hear about your part of the World killing monitors. Your comment unfortunately is on my blog and this was written and published in June 2007, more than 2 years ago. Most of my readers won't have read this piece, for them to respond by e-mail. In India wildlife in endangered. We are trying to do something for the Tiger at the moment. I am also interested in conserving the Whale Shark that is being hunted along the coast in India and this is endangered as well. All the best with your efforts. I am on twitter @airplanetalk where you can follow/leave comment and I can also flog your e-mail id on twitter for people to contact you. Also, visit my latest blogs, even one that I posted today. Even I don't normally go looking for a comment that was left on my blog more than 2 and half years back, hence it is better to reach me thru my latest blogs by making reference to the old one if you like, especially to highlight the monitor lizard issue. Thanks for writing in.