Flying Lemurs of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Flying lemurs are such wonderful creatures that I decided to share about them in this post. I am glad they choose Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to be their habitat. Although they can be found in some forests in Southeast Asia, the smaller forest area in Singapore and terrain of Bukit Timah Hill allows them to be spotted much more easily.
While the oriental pied hornbills are iconic to Pulau Ubin, the flying lemurs can be considered as iconic to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. For travellers who like to see wild animals, don't miss them when in Singapore.
Pulau Ubin: Island Paradise of Singapore
About Flying Lemur
First of all, these mammals are erroneously called "flying lemur". They neither fly nor are they lemurs (a kind of primate endemic to the island of Madagascar). They glide through the air, with the aid of the large skin membranes between their limbs, when leaping from trees to trees. They are actually named as "colugos", but the term "flying lemurs" has been so commonly used that the two terms became synonymous.
Two species of colugos are found in the world but in Southeast Asia only. The Malayan colugos, or Sunda colugos, can be found in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Philippine colugos are of a different specie that can only be found in the southern islands of the Philippines, but their population is decreasing due to poaching for their meat and fur and clearing of rainforests.
The colugos are nocturnal animals and usually feed and move around at night, some times on the ground in search of food, and are always high up on the trees during the day. They are herbivorous and feed on leaves, flowers, shoots and fruits. While they can climb trees with ease, they are slow and clumsy when on the ground.
The Malayan Colugos
Interestingly, although the Malayan colugos found in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve belongs to the same specie, they put on different fur colours and patterns. This is unlike other animals that look similar to one another from the same specie. Check them out.
By the way, to take photos of colugos, you will need a camera with tele-zooming capabilities, and mounted on a tripod, as they are usually up on tall trees and under shades. Mobile phones usually cannot zoom in close enough and with clarity. I was using mobile phones for several sightings until I started to bring my DSLR to the nature reserve. The photos in this post are taken using DSLR and in recent months only.
The above photo was shot in March 2017. It's an adult Malayan flying lemur with gray fur and scaly pattern.
A month later, this baby colugo was spotted. Its fur pattern is somewhat similar to the first one. Are they related?
May 2017. A brown-furred one this time, sticking its tongue out to clean its face. I didn't realised that the colugos wear different clothes until I saw the difference between this one and those from previous sightings.
Last Saturday (June 2017), these two colugos were spotted on the same tree together, a pretty rare sight. Someone commented that it's probably the prelude to mating. As they were in the shade of the tree canopy, they appeared dark.
A closer look at the same duo. The one below was spotting dark (black or brown?) fur with spots and patches of white.
The top one shifted position later in the day and could be seen much more clearly in the sunlight. It spotted a mix of gray and brown colors. Do both colugos look fierce and are gritting their teeth?
On closer inspection, it is actually a stripe of white fur above the mouth, not its teeth. The lip is just a thin line below the white stripe. They are shy and friendly creatures.
Three days later, a dark-coloured and white-spotted one was seen close to the last sighting of the duo. Not sure if this was one of the duo (the lower one).
On the same day (actually, it's the day before this post was published), another colugo was seen on a tree right in front of the Visitor Centre. It was the first time a bold colugo exposed itself so openly and less than 3 metres above ground. This caught visitors by surprise. It was a weekday and with few visitors, so it probably got bolder than usual. This is also a golden opportunity for visitors to take close-up photos of the mammal and study it closely.
From the fur colour and pattern, this colugo is yet another one. Somehow, every time I bring my DSLR to the nature reserve, I always photographed a different one.
After less than an hour of being there, it started to climb up the tree. Too bad I was not videoing it, if not, it would be easier to see how it moved. As it climbed higher and higher, it suddenly leaped away from the tree, opened out its "wing" fully and glided to another tree close by. The flight was over in less than a second. I was telezooming my camera and not able to catch that precious flying moment on photo, but I did witness it with my own eyes.
Nevertheless, it was a good lesson learnt. Next time a colugo climbs higher up, it is preparing to jump. Do standby the camera for that golden moment. I will try for another chance again.
From the numerous photos that I took of the colugo climbing up the tree, this photo shows it peeing after lifting its "skirt". And it's probably a male.
The Discovery Trail
I managed to capture 6 or 7 flying lemurs on photos on 5 visits with a DSLR, so the chances of spotting one of them is pretty high. Notice that some of the colugos in the photos are clinging to thick tree trunks, you will not see them if you happen to be checking out the trees from the wrong direction. So, use the suggested trail below and check all directions, if possible.
Go up the main road (the "ramp") from the Visitor Centre till you reach the first hut. Check for flying lemurs in areas where there are tall trees. Skip areas with dense vegetation, you won't be able to see them through thick vegetation. They will not be in those places either as they need clear paths to glide from trees to trees.
If you can't find them from the main road, go down Kruing Path, the junction at the top of the ramp-road near the hut, and then turn right to South View Path. Continue to look for them while on the paths. Note that you will be at lower altitudes on the hillside paths, so you need to be looking up the trees. Watch your footsteps while walking, and stand still before looking up.
The trail will lead you back to the Visitor Centre. If you still can't find any of them, walk back in reverse direction till you reach the hut on top of the ramp-road. Hopefully, walking in a different direction will increase your chance.
Also, if you see photographers aiming their cameras at something in the trees, do ask them what are they are photographing. They may point out a Malayan colugo to you. Nature lovers love to share.
Find wild animals by Listening to the Rustles in the Leaves
Don't miss the flying lemurs and other wild animals when you are in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve next time.