Meet the neighbours: The seven animals you’ll spot in NUS

Beyond the lecture theatres, classrooms and student hangout spots, it is hard to miss the lush greenery that surrounds NUS. This has made the campus environs not only a second home for staff and students, but also a place for a wide range of biodiversity to call home.

These habitats are here to stay too. Emphasising NUS’ commitment to preserving its rich biodiversity, fighting climate change and being an environmentally responsible campus, the “Planting 10,000 Trees” initiative launched by NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye in 2018 saw 500 mature trees planted throughout the campus, as well as 9,500 saplings nurtured in the NUS nursery. In addition, a strict policy to protect existing trees was also implemented.

Mr Athanasius Koh, a management trainee with the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Corporate Communications team for the past six months, and avid nature photographer, takes regular photo walks exploring these habitats. Mr Koh, who is also from the FASS Class of 2021, shares about the interesting animals he has spotted along the way.

Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)

Dressed in beautiful blue feathers and a broad white “collar” around its neck, the collared kingfisher is a vocal bird spotted about campus with its series of harsh “kee-kee” notes, described by some as a maniacal laugh.

The collared kingfisher has also been quite the icon in Singapore’s history, gracing not only stamps but even the now decommissioned $10 note as part of The Bird Series Currency Notes from 1976 to 1984.

Look out for the collared kingfisher’s outstanding blue plumage as it rests atop trees and lamp posts. This sharply dressed celebrity is an easy spot around FASS and NUS Faculty of Engineering.

Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)

Even if you have never personally caught sight of the resident FASS red junglefowl, you are more than likely to have heard its signature “cock-a-doodle-doo” around the faculty. Often confused for the domestic chicken, the red junglefowl is in fact its wild ancestor.

According to a study led by NUS ornithologist Associate Professor Frank Rheindt, the red junglefowl can be quite easily distinguished from the domestic chicken. Male red junglefowls proudly flaunt their dark green tail feathers and black primary feathers while females have distinguishing grey legs and sport black primary feathers.

While it remains a mystery why it crosses the road, the red junglefowl and its loud presence has certainly captured the attention of students and staff alike.

Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)

Scurrying and leaping from tree to tree, the plantain squirrel is an adorable sight if you are lucky to observe one at rest or enjoying its meal. This active animal is one of the most common mammals in Singapore and can be identified by distinctive black and white stripes on the sides of its body and its long bushy tail.

These physical features might have you thinking what a beautiful squirrel it is, and you are not alone! In fact, Callosciurus, the plantain squirrel’s taxonomic group, translates to “beautiful squirrel”.

Blink and you just might miss this nimble creature, but the plantain squirrel can be commonly found on the trees around NUS such as at the NUS Faculty of Science. Listen out for the rustling of leaves and you just might come face-to-face with this lovable rodent.

Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Often moving in flocks and squawking in unison, the rose-ringed parakeet is a loud presence in NUS. Sporting a bright green plumage, orange beak and blue-tipped tail, males also have an added pink collar around their neck in their third year.

The rose-ringed parakeet was introduced to our green spaces as escaped pets. Native to the Indian subcontinent and northern Southeast Asia, it is a resilient bird that has thrived even in locations as far as Europe!

A bird that you might hear before you see, the rose-ringed parakeet has been spotted on sunny mornings at FASS’ Lovers’ Park and along the walkway between Blocks AS6 and AS8 grabbing its breakfast.

Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier)

One of the most common birds in Singapore’s many green spaces besides the mynah, the yellow-vented bulbul is an easy spot with its black eye-mask, olive-brown back and wings and most strikingly, yellow undertail.

An unfussy fellow, the yellow-vented bulbul has been observed to feed on a variety of small fruits and insects. In addition, it can sometimes be seen carrying strips of man-made waste like plastic bags and tissue paper to be used as nesting material. You might have heard its distinct chirps before, without knowing that it was the yellow-vented bulbul, but now you can keep an eye out for them too! Spot them in shrubs and trees around campus, such as the patch of greenery right outside NUS Press at Block AS3.

Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor)

Often mistaken for the chameleon, the changeable lizard definitely is not one at all, but that does not stop it from changing its colours when it needs to! Usually brownish to greenish yellow with faint stripes along its body, adult males develop an orange-coloured head and black patches over their cheeks during the mating season.

As common as this rapid reptile is, you might be surprised to know that it is not native to Singapore. It is believed that it was accidentally introduced in the 1980s and has since populated in numbers, aggressively displacing the native green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella).

While the changeable lizard is somewhat adept at camouflaging, its timid nature means that you are more likely to find it scurrying away the moment there is a slightest disturbance, rustling up the grass. They can be seen all around campus such as at the FASS Fragrant Plant Garden or outside The Deck canteen.

Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

The oriental pied hornbill has certainly made an impactful comeback to Singapore’s shores. Once thought to be locally extinct, the large bird can be identified by its casque atop its beak as well as its black and white plumage.

Along with other “celebrity wildlife” like the otters in Singapore, the oriental pied hornbills’ return to the mainland can be largely attributed to conservation efforts by the National Parks Board, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the local research community. These efforts include providing sufficient mature trees for hornbills that favour nesting in tree holes.

Spotted across a number of locations in Singapore, NUS is no exception. It has been spotted in University Town and around FASS Block AS1 as well as the trees outside Block AS7, Shaw Foundation Building.

Now that you have met some of the interesting wildlife that have called NUS their home, be sure to keep an eye out for our neighbours in nature between classes! Do appreciate them from a safe distance and refrain from feeding them.