26 September 2008

Memories of Priscilla the Pig of Chek Jawa

Meeting Priscilla the Pig was one of the highlights of a visit to Chek Jawa in the early days.
Priscilla the Pig on rural roadway
This is one of my earliest photos of her. It was just Pris and me at Chek Jawa. I even spent one afternoon sharing Punai Hut with Priscilla as we both waited out the wet weather. Eventually, I took her good advice and had a nap as well.

Here's more about our dear beloved pig of Chek Jawa.

Chek Jawa was Priscilla's home. And larder too, where a bit of rootin' around would quickly unearth edible tit bits.It was also her lounge where she would happily take a snooze, oblivious to visitors.

Priscilla the pig
Visitors would often miss her entirely because she looked just like one of the grey rocks on the shore. But once noticed, visitors could never resist a paparazzi shot with this famous beast.
When she felt a little more lively, she would accompany the visitors on the public walks at Chek Jawa.
After deferment: public walks continues
But being a long-time resident, she didn't have to pay too much attention during guide training.After deferment: the work goes on

A heart-stopping moment for those of us who loved this beast was when Priscilla sustained a deep wound on her rump, early in the week of 26 May 2003.


She was not seen again until 3 June, when this picture was taken and NParks officers treated her.
Photo by How Choon Beng

On 7 June, Priscilla made her usual appearance during a public walk with about 100 people. Walking with a slight limp, she was still the simple, trusting and gentle creature that we have all grown to love. Fortunately, her injury did not seem to have made her fearful of people.

On 7 June, her wound appeared better. Here is a closer look at the wound. It appears to be healing nicely after tender treatment by NParks officers. The location of the wounds suggest it was inflicted by a slash of a large knife. NParks officers had been regularly applying medication to her wound. Apparently, some kind Thai workers had also prepared and applied herbs to her wound.By 20 June, Priscilla's wound is completely healed! She made her usual appearance during the recent public walks and was as good natured as always.
In the hope of preventing prevent similar injuries to Priscilla, NParks and Chek Jawa volunteers put up a poster about her. The hope was that the poster would help people understand Priscilla and why she should not be disturbed or harmed.
In addition this information was conveyed by guides during walks and circulated on the net and posted to the wildsingapore website.

What can you do?
If you are at Chek Jawa and you see Priscilla, do say hello and admire her. But please don't touch her; she may get alarmed if too many people get near her.

Also please don't feed her. Our food may be harmful to her. She is well able to find her own food on the seashore and in the coastal forest. Here, there are plenty of crabs, fruits, roots and other titbits. In fact, you might see her dig up edibles from the shore with her sturdy nose! If you want to feed her anything, you may give her some freshwater, which may be in short supply especially during the dry season.

If you do see anyone harassing or hurting her, please explain to them that she means no one any harm and shouldn't be disturbed. If she is seriously hurt, do call NParks Info Kiosk at: 6542-4108.
Priscilla's inury was also featured in the New Paper by Jen Lee, a Chek Jawa volunteer and journalist with the Paper.

Too cruel

Someone slashed this wild boar. So rangers, vets go on week-long search in Pulau Ubin to find and treat it
Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper 9 Jun 03 (PDF file on the habitatnews blog)
IT was a call about a slash-and-dash. A close contact called me with disturbing news. 'Priscilla has been slashed with a knife. Don't know who did it, we're looking for her tomorrow.'

The next day, I found myself on Pulau Ubin, 10 of us piled into two rough-terrain vehicles, bumping along a dirt road until we reached Chek Jawa beach. A motley crew of National Parks Board (NParks) rangers, photographers, researchers, vets and a journalist - looking for
Priscilla.

Who is Priscilla?

Priscilla is a Chek Jawa native. A friendly wild boar who doesn't hesitate to push her snout through the sand, chomping noisily on roots, fruits and even crabs. She is used to humans because a former Chek Jawa villager Chu Yok Choon, 58, hand-raised her for five years.

When the village was cleared for reclamation, he left the 50kg oinker behind, but would check on her every now and then. Mr Chu was the first person to see the gash about 15cm long and 2cm deep on her left buttock on May 26th. Her short tail, which she usually wags like a dog, also suffered a cut.

The taxi driver said in Mandarin: 'I don't know who would be so cold-hearted. I was afraid the wound may get infected with maggots, so I told NParks.'

And that's how a 10-strong search-and-rescue team came to be on the island - looking for one lone pig.

Singapore Zoo veterinary director Paolo Martelli happened to go to Chek Jawa on the same day. He found out about Priscilla's injury. 'It was my day off, I was asked to help. In case she needed anaethesia, I brought the drugs which had to be kept in a cooler,' said Dr Martelli. His girlfriend, also a vet, came along.

We walked up and down the beach, shouting 'Priscilla!'.

Normally, the perky porker would appear when she hears voices. But even after three hours, there was no sign of her.

Dr Martelli left instructions and medication with NParks rangers, who continued to look out for her hairy shadow over the next week.

One ranger said: 'It's the island's pig, we have to help.'

There were fleeting sightings but finally last Tuesday, the rangers were able to bring her into a fenced area for treatment.

Poor Pris walked with a slight limp, but she allowed the rangers to get close so they could clean her wound with sterile saline and iodine. They also gave her the anti-maggot tablets and antibiotics to fight off infections.

Dr Martelli was e-mailed a picture of the wound. He said it seems to be healing nicely, but he will make a piggy-call soon to be sure.

Volunteer guides will soon be putting up signs asking visitors not to feed or touch Priscilla, who has since returned to being a beach babe.

While there are other wild boars on the island, they shy away from people - unlike Priscilla.

Maybe she should be more careful too.

Mr Joseph Lai, a botanist who helps in research at Chek Jawa, said: 'She's special but let her be as wild as possible. She's very capable of finding her own food, so don't make her dependent on people.'

This little piggy got lost and found... at sea

THEY'RE used to spotting illegal immigrants trying to enter Singapore by sea. But a wild boar swimming in the sea? So when the Police Coast Guard spotted this little fellow swimming near the SAF jetty in Changi last Thursday, they promptly rescued it and called NParks Ubin.

An Ubin volunteer said: 'We didn't know if it's a boy or a girl and we wanted a name starting with P-R-I after Priscilla the Pig, so this is Pringles the Piglet.'Wild boar are born with white stripes down their backs that fade as they grow older. Measuring only 30cm across, Pringles is being kept in a safe place on the island to rest and recover. So far it is feeding well, and can be seen munching on coconut chunks. No potato chips for Pringles though.

SAVING CHEK JAWA

THE tidal flats of Chek Jawa on the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin were slated for reclamation at the end of 2001. Luckily, a groundswell of public awareness about its diverse plants and animals resulted in a deferment by the Ministry of National Development.

A lot of work is still needed to protect this piece of Singapore's natural coast, said dentist and nature photographer Dr Chua Ee Kiam in his book, Chek Jawa: Discovering Singapore's Biodiversity.

Some problems are over-exposure to visitors and exploitation by souvenir hunters and fishermen. While researchers monitor the impact of trampling on organisms like the carpet anemone, NParks and volunteers organise guided walks to minimise damage.

Visitors must pre-register through the NParks Ubin Hotline (6542-4108) for a walk. The dates are released every three months at www.nparks.gov.sg
Priscilla rest in peace

Alas on 27 May 2004, Priscilla was found dead by NParks rangers. There was no obvious cause of death aside from "a small festering wound, and blood coming from her nostrils". She was buried where she was found, next to the access to Chek Jawa's shoreline. Her final resting place may be unmarked, but her mark on many of our hearts remains till this day.

This was my last photo of Priscilla taken on 2 May 04, patiently putting up with shutterbugs as she tried to cool off her butt in the mud.
Priscilla the pig
These were among the tributes to her passing:
I was sadden when I heard that "Priscilla" had died. I knew Priscilla the friendliest wild boar on Ubin long before Chek Jawa became famous. To some people Priscilla was much an attraction as Chek Jawa.
Grant W. Pereira

Characteristically bubbly when asked about Priscilla's early 'childhood', Mr Yeo offered his first impression of Priscilla like any proud father. 'She was only 7 kilo!' he said when I first interviewed him in 2003. 'She like to eat coconuts and, very cute and clever... she could open durians with her jaws and she could swim.' he added proudly.
Mr Yeo to Joseph Lai from Joseph Lai's Priscilla in Mr Yeo's heart. See also In Priscilla's Honour: The Grain that made the Pearl on Joseph Lai's www.eart-h.com

This true resident of Chek Jawa was an old friend, turning up at every trip, venturing out even as far as the sandbanks to nuzzle out edible creatures in the sand. When she was missing, we'd ask each other, "Have you seen Priscilla today?"
N. Sivasothi in Priscilla of Chek Jawa is no moreon the habitatnews blog
The much loved babe of Chek Jawa
Desmond Wong, The New Paper 9 Jun 04
There was something in the way she smiled and wagged her tail

PRISCILLA, the much-loved wild boar of Pulau Ubin's coastal reserve, Chek Jawa, has died. Her passing touched a group of Chek Jawa volunteers so much that they have even set up memorial web postings. 'May she forever be remembered as the gentle First Lady of Chek Jawa, and may her spirit ring the vesper-bell of hope for Chek Jawa at every sunset,' wrote Joseph Lai on one website.

Mr Mark Lim, a National Parks Board (NParks) ranger, found her body on the beach on May 27 during a routine patrol of the area. He immediately told his supervisor about the sad news.

The NParks rangers and Chek Jawa volunteer guides, who knew Priscilla well, were saddened to hear of her death. 'It is a loss to us, as Priscilla was a friendly wild boar and was a familiar sight at Chek Jawa,' said Mr Lim.

Mr Tom Chong, 25, a guide for the Ubin Volunteer Programme, said Chek Jawa wouldn't be the same without her. 'For me, Priscilla has always been one of the faces of Chek Jawa, a way to connect people to a place,'he said. 'She was more than a mascot, more than a symbol. 'The walks will be that much harder to conduct now that she will no longer be expected to turn up with a smile and a wag of her tail,' he added.

Even those who had only known Priscilla for a short while were touched by her loss. A Chek Jawa volunteer guide-to-be, Ms Yeo-Choo Poh Lian, 39, only encountered Priscilla - also known as Wei Wei - a few times while she was training to become a guide. But the impression the wild boar made on her was unforgettable.

ENJOYED HUMAN COMPANY 'She didn't look very friendly at first, being a wild boar,' said Ms Yeo-Choon. 'But soon, you realised she enjoyed the company of human beings, and she even let you stroke her. Now, she won't coming out to greet visitors any more.'

An NParks spokesman said Priscilla was found with a small festering wound, and blood coming from her nostrils. The cause of her death is not known.

Priscilla made headlines in June last year when it was discovered someone had slashed her with a knife. A rescue party was sent out to find Priscilla and nurse her back to health. Fortunately, the resilient porker made a quick recovery, her welcoming nature intact despite the attack.

Priscilla was warmly disposed towards people due to the fact that she was hand-raised by one Mr Yeo, a former Chek Jawa native, as a piglet after he found her about seven years ago.

Mr N Sivasothi, researcher for the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS, said the wild boar was always on the minds of the volunteers. 'Whenever one of us did not see Priscilla during the day, we would ask amongst ourselves, 'Hey, have you seen her today?',' said Mr Sivasothi.

Priscilla was buried at Chek Jawa, returning to the coastal reservation that was her playground.
Wild boars can still be seen in large numbers at Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. Here's recent sightings by the Naked Hermit Crabs during their guided walk on the Chek Jawa boardwalk.

But there have since been no other pig like Priscilla.

I'm revamping the Chek Jawa factsheets on the wildsingapore website. And thus re-posting and consolidating some info onto this blog instead.

8 comments:

  1. My walks in Chek Jawa has not been the same since her untimely death. I cannot walk there without missing or thinking about her. It is kind of bittersweet. Yes - without fail indeed.

    She still floods my conciousness like she had done shadowing our walks like a fellow adventurer or team member. She was such a giant part of our collective experience considering the hundreds or thousands of Singaporeans who had met her. I think, if society were brave enough to try new things, the tower that now stands in Chek Jawa ought rightly to be named after her in her honour, never minding if she is only a pig. She is after all a friend - our friend.

    I wished with all my heart, that at least a monument be placed at House no.1 to keep her story and presence alive in Chek Jawa... like a bronze statue?

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  2. Thanks for sharing those precious memories Joe. Yes, I do miss her very much. Chek Jawa isn't quite the same without her.

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  3. How sweet! Thanks for consolidating and reposting everything.

    Yes she kept us company during the days of the surveys and public walks that she's part of the Chek Jawa memory for me too.

    And she enchanted all the VIPS who visited Chek Jawa in 2001/2. I miss her too.

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  4. I am wondering if anyone knew who named Wei Wei Priscilla, the Pig. It was Celine Low. Vilma d'Rosario & a few others visited Chek Jawa that day. Celine said something to this effect: "let's give her a name. Priscilla, the Pig for our tame wild boar sounds good. Thereafter, she was referred to by that name. This should set the record straight.

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  5. Even though I dont know who Priscilla is, I feel so sad for her! :'( She seemed really like a nice boar. :(

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  6. Wow, Ria!

    I didn't realise Chek Jawa had such a charismatic animal! Wild boars are usually aggressive and non-approachable but Priscilla is an exception! After reading your blog post, I'm really eager to know more about her. It's really sad indeed that she'd died...

    Perhaps a memorial or an interactive centre featuring her (and probably her remains) may be a great way to educate people about life of her kind and the island's wildlife as well?

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  7. Yes, Priscilla is sorely missed though she passed on some years ago. A memorial would be a lovely thing to have!

    Fortunately (or not, I'm not sure), some wild boar have become rather tame at Chek Jawa recently.

    But there have since been, none as endearing as Priscilla!

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  8. Fond memories! She never returned my love...

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