This Book Is The 19th-Century Version Of The Singapore Wildlife Sightings Facebook Group
STORY: Diane Lam
16 November 2021
Hardly a week goes by without an otter, a python, or a colourful bird making headlines on our local news.
But people’s fascination with our local wildlife goes back centuries. Take this 200-year-old sketch of a menacing-looking pit viper, which was commissioned by French naturalists Pierre-Médard Diard and Alfred Duvaucel.
Yeah, we know - who? The Frenchmens' names might be unfamiliar to most, but the name of their travel companion - Sir Stamford Raffles - certainly isn't. Diard and Duvaucel accompanied Sir Stamford Raffles on his expeditions to Southeast Asia between 1818 and 1820, only to return alone in 1819 just so they could study our local wildlife in more detail.
Their expeditions resulted in hundreds of sketches documenting plants and animals that they saw in what is now Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. While most of these drawings have spent the past 200 years in musems, the Embassy of Franch in Singapore and the National Library Board have assembled these drawings in a book published with Epigram so that everyone can enjoy them.
Naturally, we were curious about what kinds of animals roamed around pre-industrial Singapore, especially since we couldn't find any of the usual suspects - crocodiles, magpies, and macaques - while flipping through the book.
Here's a short glimpse of what Diard and Duvaucel spotted during their travels here over the years:
Fun fact: This species of bird (Calyptomena viridis) is the first in Singapore to be given a scientific name
Earlier this week, dozens of photographers gathered at Bishan-AMK park to photograph a migratory kingfisher (which was, unfortunately, eaten by a fish). We're sure Diard and Duvacuel would have been just as devastated by the sight, given the number of kingfishers they included in their collections.
As a cuckoo, this bird belongs in the same order of birds as the Asian Koel (otherwise known as the uwu bird - if you zoom in, you'll see the resemblance in the Pied Cuckoo's eyes). We can only wonder with the French naturalists made of all that 'birdsong'.
Kuhl's Gliding Gecko
While this specimen was obtained in Sumatra, it can be found in Singapore as well.
All the animals featured in this story can be found in Singapore (or at the very least, they could be found in Singapore 200 years ago). But zoom in to the top left corner - out of all the illustrations, only this one indicates that this specimen was specifically collected in the "island of Singapore".
This little songbird may have been collected in Sumatra, but it can be found in Singapore as well.