Inspiring a love for nature

10 October 2017 | General News
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Dr Su sharing her passion for nature at Festival of Biodiversity this year

NUS alumni Mr Ong Say Lin and Dr Theresa Su have been volunteering with NUS Toddycats! (Toddycats) since they were undergraduates, and they have no plans to stop any time soon. They are motivated not only by a desire to share their passion for the environment and inspire change in society, but also by their strong attachment to the group.

Toddycats is a community of volunteers with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) at NUS that engages in nature conservation and outreach. Said Mr Ong, who graduated from NUS Science in 2012, “Through my involvement with the Toddycats during my undergraduate years, many of my mentors and course mates have become friends and I enjoy chatting with them about Singapore’s biodiversity. Using NUS as a base is a nostalgic bonus!” Fellow NUS Science graduate Dr Theresa Su echoed his sentiments, sharing that she sees Toddycats as a platform for reconnecting with friends through service.

Toddycats was established in 2002 by Mr N Sivasothi, Senior Lecturer with NUS Biological Sciences and Director of Studies, Ridge View Residential College. Over the years, the group has grown into a tight-knit community of conservation enthusiasts, with many NUS alumni returning to inspire the next generation of nature lovers. Mr Sivasothi also proved to be a pillar of the group, having inspired many of his students, including Mr Ong and Dr Su, to volunteer with Toddycats.

Speaking of the alumni volunteers, Mr Sivasothi said, “They bring with them maturity, familiarity and wisdom. When they work alongside people who are young, there is an exchange of outlook, information and attitudes.”

This year, Dr Su is helping out with two Toddycats programmes — she co-leads Howl at the Moon (HOWL) and is actively involved in Festival of Biodiversity. The former consists of quarterly meet-ups where Toddycats learn from one another and discuss current conservation issues. The latter is a celebration of native biodiversity, and this year’s edition in May engaged the public in a range of activities such as field trips to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

A Research Fellow with the National Institute of Education, Singapore, Dr Su also takes part in the annual International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore (ICCS) whenever possible, saying, “It is a win-win exercise. We remove trash and raise awareness about marine trash and its detrimental effects on our coastlines.”

Through my involvement with the Toddycats during my undergraduate years, many of my mentors and course mates have become friends and I enjoy chatting with them about Singapore’s biodiversity. Using NUS as a base is a nostalgic bonus!

Mr Ong’s volunteer work with Toddycats started on a casual note when he was in Year 2, which evolved into a deeper involvement during his final year. He enjoys contributing to Toddycats’ many meaningful projects as he finds that it helps him to stay connected with like-minded people and be updated on the latest environment-related developments in Singapore. “And chatting with students makes me feel young,” he quipped.

On a more serious note, he added, “Humans have managed to isolate ourselves in our self-created worlds, excluding the very environment and the wildlife that share our space on a daily basis, particularly in Singapore,” citing this as impetus to reconnect with and better appreciate nature and wildlife through his volunteer work.

Currently, Mr Ong’s main responsibilities with Toddycats include co-leading HOWL sessions and leading the Shelter Pawject, a quarterly initiative that sees small groups conducting dog shelter clean-ups at Uncle Khoe’s K9 Shelter. He also participates in ICCS, tree-planting exercises as well as Festival of Biodiversity.

Despite the long years of involvement on the part of Mr Ong and Dr Su, their enthusiasm is not waning and their commitment unwavering. In fact, they are especially energised by Toddycats’ public education and outreach efforts.

Mr Ong, an ecologist, enjoys sharing his knowledge and appreciation for nature. “It is easy to be detached from nature, so introducing fun facts about the wildlife that share our island is particularly enjoyable when I see surprised or interested expressions when they hear about what Toddycats have to say,” he said.


Mr Ong participated in the 2016 Mandai Kechil mangrove clean-up

For Dr Su, nature outreach is illuminating in many ways. “Public outreach allows me to enjoy meaningful conversations. I have learnt a lot about our heritage and even about myself,” she said.

Mr Sivasothi also shared their partiality for outreach. “It’s almost part of the culture because of the loss that we see and the value of people understanding the natural world and how it’ll result in mitigation of that loss,” he explained.


This is the second article in a series by NUS News profiling young alumni who are sharing considerable time and energy to mentor a new generation of NUS students. You can view the first article here.