The value of the ordinary

I recently read an article that focused on the role of charismatic megafauna in conservation. Charismatic megafauna refers to large animals like tigers or pandas that have widespread popular appeal, which are often used by scientists or conservation organisations to promote various environmental causes. Besides their appeal, another reason why these animals are chosen is that they require quite a large tract of land to survive and thus, ensuring their conservation would have an “umbrella effect” and help to conserve the less glamorous creatures that share the same space too.

However, this becomes a problem in places like Singapore, where such megafauna are no longer present in the wild. Thus, the outreach efforts of conservation organisations that focus on charismatic megafauna can instead, hinder the efforts by local naturalists to raise awareness about the importance of our remaining forested areas.  By neglecting the ordinary in favour of the rare and unique critters, the target audience may tend to get the wrong impression and only consider places worthy of conserving, when they have such creatures. We may no longer have tigers here, but the bracket fungi, the stick insects, and the colugos all do have a part to play in the ecosystem and in ensuring the stability of the forest ecosystem.

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Malayan colugo at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Similarly, a comment made by a friend made me start thinking a little bit more about the worth of the “ordinary” – the common organisms seen during walks. During a recent conversation,  I mentioned that during my last guided walk at MacRitchie, I encountered three different kinds of snakes: a twin-barred tree snake, a Wagler’s pit viper, and a paradise tree snake. My friend was very excited and commented that I must have been very lucky as when he visits MacRitchie, all he usually sees are plants.

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From top to bottom: twin-barred tree snake, Wagler’s pit viper, and a paradise tree snake.

Oftentimes, when guiding a group of people during outdoor walks, many guides (including myself) dismiss plants for the sake of animals. The rationale is that animals are more mobile and as such, they should be given priority, whereas plants will always be there. Even within animals, people tend to be more intrigued by the rare ones, or the more mobile ones than the stationary ones because of this idea of  “where are the latter going to go?”

It was only during this conversation that it hit me that while we are often quick to dismiss the ordinary, we fail to realize just how dependent we are on these organisms when planning walks or when bringing them up as examples to get people to relate to nature. Granted, the Wagler’s pit viper is a great sighting, but the rain tree is something that is more relatable, as it is something that most people would have seen given that it is one of the 10 most commonly planted roadside trees in Singapore. Similarly, when preparing for walks with specific learning objectives, it is often the stationary organisms, like the plants, that educators tend to plan their stories around.

So, here’s a post dedicated to all the “common things”, the “usual sightings”, and the “definitely can be seen” organisms. As an educator, thank you for being so dependable when it comes to planning and also, for allowing people to realise that nature, truly is all around.

P.S. All the photos were taken by me in Singapore.

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