Vol 10 No 3
Community Involvement Programme by Jurong West Secondary School
Photographing Nature Workshop forCommonwealth
Experiencing Life in the Mangroves
with the Canadian International School (Singapore)
Doing what they do best for a good cause: Hillgrove Secondary School
Volunteers Conduct Heron Counts at Sungei Buloh
13th International Coastal Cleanup
Wild Boar Sightings
An ASEAN Experience: Conference on ASEAN Heritage Parks
Volunteer Outing to Pulau
Kukup and Yong Peng Heronry
Young Hearts for Nature: Young Naturalist Passport Camp
Volunteer Outing to Pulau Kukup
and Yong Peng
Heronry, Johor, Malaysia
Early morning on the 15th of
August 2004, a busload of an assortment of individuals headed north-west of
Singapore, towards the south-western end of Johor. For this year’s volunteer and staff outing, Pulau
Kukup and the Yong Peng Heronry were our
We were provided with a tourist guide who entertained us non-stop for
pretty much the entire journey, telling us, with zest, about the lands and
history of the regions the coach passed through. To get to Pulau Kukup, we had to make a
stop at the busy rural town of Pontian and proceed to the island by boat.
But that was not before spending some time in the Johor National Park
Visitor Information Centre, enjoying the exhibits they had there of their
Declared a Ramsar site, or a wetland of
international importance, at the beginning of this year, Pulau Kukup, like Sungei Buloh, is a mangrove
reserve. “ If there is one mission that unites national parks all over the
world, it is the conservation ethic.” This was one sentence from Johor
Parks’ Pulau Kukup
website which caught my eye and provoked some thoughts. That was certainly
true, especially for reserves which have such similar habitats. While at Kukup, our conservation officers exchanged knowledge
with the Park Manager, who led us around Kukup,
pointing out the unique fauna and flora which could be found there. We, who
were used to being the guides in a nature reserve, were now the ones being
We pointed out the tiniest of crabs, in the brightest of colours, “Oh, oh! There’s an orange one there!”
And a few seconds later, “There’s an even smaller
one here! There… you see the green one?” We were
amazed at how small the denizens of Kukup were…
compared to those in Buloh. The mudskippers were
small. The halfbeaks were petit. So were the many species of spiders found
there, and1 the caterpillars.
The animals there were either small, or were so well-camouflaged that most of
them, I reckon, had escaped our notice. Those of us with cameras snapped away
at this speckled moth on a bark; it greatly resembled the Peppered moth of
Europe. With the cameras flashing around it, it must have felt like a
celebrity. The few grey herons that we saw were not as ‘chubby’ as those we
were used to seeing. All these were not a sign of a lack of nutrition though.
Far from that, Kukup is vibrant, and rich with
life. Our conservation officers speculate that many of them might be sub-species.
Sometimes hailed as the central structure of attraction at Kukup is a 6-storey-high aerie.
As disinclined as I was to heights, I reminded myself that we had all
survived the narrow 30m suspension bridge at the entrance of the Park, and
scaling the aerie shouldn’t
be too difficult. The little struggle up the tower
was worth it. From the top of the aerie, one was
treated to a 360 degree panoramic view of Kukup and
its surrounds. It was a sea of green – the canopies of the mangrove treetops.
And the best thing was, there was not another
man-made structure in sight… it gave the feeling of what nature was meant to
After witnessing a wasp parasiting a poor
caterpillar, we made our way back to Pontian, to enjoy a seafood lunch on a
raised platform beside the jetty. Terns dive-bombed around us, and the
then-greyish sky was welcomed by the photographers, who had their bazooka
lenses all ready, aiming at the swooping seabirds.
It was another long journey – for us Singaporeans who have never had to travel
too far to get to where we wanted – up to the famous heronry at Yong Peng.
Upon arrival, nobody could be certain if that was in fact the correct
destination. All there was was a row of shophouses, a bank, and a few Yong Peng residents sitting
about having their afternoon coffee. Someone pointed out the back lane,
behind the shophouses. We disembarked. The moment
we got off the coach, we could hear the familiar hoarse calls and squawks of…
herons! Did it sound like there were many of them around! The sight which
greeted us was simply amazing – in a tiny patch of shrubs and grassland, a
good 30-odd mixture of Black-crowned Night Herons and Purple Herons were
perched on the tree branches. It was as urban a heronry as you could get. The
adults and juveniles were totally oblivious to us humans with our scopes and
monster lenses and cameras snapping away from not far off. I daresay we were
only slightly more than 50m away.
The hour and a half that we spent there was not enough; some of us could have
stayed there for hours on end. The heronry was a remarkable arrangement.
There were wild, untouched lands all around, and yet the herons chose to live
and nest at a location so close to human activity. Later we learnt that there
was a dam nearby, where the birds did their fishing, but still the main
question which lingered in our minds went unanswered: what drew them to that
particular patch of green and not any other? Not knowing why these feathered
friends do what they do only makes us all the more in awe of them and their
At the end of the day I had a little conversation with fellow volunteer Pui San, and in these words he summed up the spirit of
the Buloh family: “The Buloh
volunteers and staff... are a very tight-knit community. There’s a strong
family spirit... a strong bond between the volunteers, and between the
volunteers and staff, and that’s a very good thing.”
It is outings such as this which brings out this spirit. And it is this
spirit which has been instrumental in ensuring the success of Sungei Buloh as a wetland
reserve… a centre for conservation and learning.
That being said… another trip in December, anyone?