The editor cut through my crab… or crap…

The full version of the disappointing cut version by ST Forum… The oomph was completely taken out of it. What’s bold was most of what’s missing.

Dear Editor,

Two recent articles mention the naturalist side of the late Dr. Ivan Polunin, featuring his contributions to the natural heritage of Singapore (Straits Times Life! 22 Dec 2010 “Dr Ivan Polunin dies”; Straits Times 23 Dec 2010 “Doctor’s rare images of S’pore to be preserved”). A column a day later mentions a small freshwater crab of the scientific name Johora singaporensis (Straits Times 25 Dec 2010 “If you see this chicken, pelase don’t cook it”) that is endemic to Singapore, i.e. it is only known to be found on our tiny island country, and nowhere else in the world. Unknown to many, however, these two sets of articles share a link: a stream that runs through the house of Polunin is a habitat for this crab, a living national treasure worth more than any book or archive.

The challenges faced in preventing the extinction of this globally critically endangered species reflect the typical complexities that belie the conservation of biodiversity. Recent modifications to the headwaters of the Polunin stream located in a military area, cut off the flow of water downstream to the house. A group of volunteers and researchers, together with help from the Polunin family and the Ministry of Defence, launched a rescue to salvage this sub-population until water flow could be diverted and restored. A separate, healthy sub-population thrives in a wooded stream next to a condominium, but the land has been earmarked for residential development under URA master plans. This unprotected woodland also contains a couple of plant species which are locally very rare, such as the bushkiller Cayratia japonica, and the sour gambir Uncaria acida which was once thought to be locally extinct. The third and last locality is in one of our nature reserves, offering more protection but for a very sparse sub-population. With regional rain acidification, and drying streams due to global climate change, we cannot afford to put all our conservation eggs in a single basket.

While the love of nature is surely shared by the descendents of Dr. Polunin, what happens beyond their house is out of their control. The habitat conservation challenges of this unique crustacean of Singapore’s illustrate that maximizing the survival of our natural heritage not only involves the efforts of a single statutory board, but also requires changed mindsets about nature across multiple ministries, corporations, and private and public landowners. While we pay our respects to nature lovers such as Mdm Kwa Geok Choo and Dr. Ivan Polunin, let us translate that respect into action, and protect what these pioneers would have loved our children to inherit.

Update: the Uncaria I collected turned out to be a critically endangered one, not the extinct one. Luckily never publish that part 😛

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