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Ant-hunting We Will Go! A Social media Group aims to connect Ant Lovers

Ants Singapore, a Facebook group that has grown to 380 members since last December, aims to connect "ant lovers and even those who are interested in keeping ants."

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An ant collector holds up a queen ant
Chris Chan, an ant collector, holds up a queen ant at a house he rented to keep his ants in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Wikimedia
  • Ants Singapore, a Facebook group, aims to connect “ant lovers and even those who are interested in keeping ants”
  • Followers share tips on catching and breeding ants, do-it-yourself ant farms and links to videos
  • The group hopes to change the idea of ants as a nuisance even though these insects are mostly harmless

Singapore, June 10, 2017: Shining their flashlights into the darkest corners of Singapore, a small group of ant hunters searches for an elusive winged insect.

With luck, they will find a queen ant to lay eggs and start a colony under the watchful eye of a collector.

“You can search for a few hours without finding anything at all. So, it’s really luck,” Leland Tan, 14, said after he hit the jackpot, and found two queen ants in one night.

Singapore, a tropical city-state home to more than 40 ant species, has a small but growing community of ant collectors.

Ants Singapore, a Facebook group that has grown to 380 members since last December, aims to connect “ant lovers and even those who are interested in keeping ants.”

Followers share tips on catching and breeding ants, do-it-yourself ant farms and links to videos such as the giant killer ants in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

While most ants in Singapore are harmless, the insects are often regarded as a nuisance. That is something Chris Chan is hoping to change.

“I want people to look at ants differently,” said Chan, a 29-year-old Uber driver and member of Ants Singapore.

“Now, a lot of people still think that ants are pests, but with enough education, I can educate them that keeping ants can be safe,” he told Reuters Television.

Chan lives across the border in the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru with his girlfriend, her family and up to 30 ant colonies living in 10 formicariums, or ant farms.

Helen Teh, the mother of Chan’s girlfriend, said she was curious why the couple needed so much sand and wood in their home.

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“He said, ‘Oh Auntie, I’m keeping ants,'” Teh said, recalling her initial surprise.

“Later, when I knew it is something that he loves … I said, ‘It’s no harm done,'” she said.

Chan has turned to social media to promote his hobby.

He has started a YouTube channel for new collectors and answers questions about ant care on the group’s Facebook page.

Chan also organizes ant-hunting trips to teach people how to find and catch the tiny insects that he says can hold his attention for hours.

“Some people can stare at an aquarium for hours. Same, just like my ants,” Chan said. (VOA)

Next Story

It’s Time To Save Endangered Gorillas

Endangered gorillas can be saved with a lot of human help

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Gorillas
Humans need to save Gorillas. Pixabay

Deep in the rainforest of Volcanoes National Park, a 23-year-old female gorilla named Kurudi feeds on a stand of wild celery. She bends the green stalks and, with long careful fingers, peels off the exterior skin to expose the succulent inside.

Biologist Jean Paul Hirwa notes her meal on his tablet computer as he peers out from behind a nearby stand of stinging nettles.

The large adult male sitting next to her, known as a silverback, looks at him quizzically. Hirwa makes a low hum — “ahh-mmm” — imitating the gorillas’ usual sound of reassurance.

“I’m here,” Hirwa is trying to say. “It’s OK. No reason to worry.”

Hirwa and the two great apes are all part of the world’s longest-running gorilla study — a project begun in 1967 by famed American primatologist Dian Fossey.

Yet Fossey herself, who died in 1985, would likely be surprised any mountain gorillas are still left to study. Alarmed by rising rates of poaching and deforestation in central Africa, she predicted the species could go extinct by 2000.

Instead, a concerted and sustained conservation campaign has averted the worst and given a second chance to these great apes, which share about 98% of human DNA. Last fall, the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the status of mountain gorillas from “critically endangered” to “endangered,” an improved if still-fragile designation.

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The population of mountain gorillas is vulnerable. Pixabay

It wouldn’t have happened without an intervention some biologists call “extreme conservation,” which has entailed monitoring every single gorilla in the rainforest, periodically giving them veterinary care and funding forest protection by sending money into communities that might otherwise resent not being able to convert the woods into cropland.

Instead of disappearing, the number of mountain gorillas — a subspecies of eastern gorillas — has risen from 680 a decade ago to just over 1,000 today. Their population is split between two regions, including mist-covered defunct volcanoes within Congo, Uganda and Rwanda — one of Africa’s smallest and most densely populated countries.

“The population of mountain gorillas is still vulnerable,” says George Schaller, a renowned biologist and gorilla expert. “But their numbers are now growing, and that’s remarkable.”

Once depicted in legends and films like “King Kong” as fearsome beasts, gorillas are actually languid primates that eat only plants and insects, and live in fairly stable, extended family groups. Their strength and chest-thumping displays are generally reserved for contests between male rivals.

Every week, scientists like Hirwa, who works for the nonprofit conservation group the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, gather data as part of long-term behavioral research.

If they see any health problems in the gorillas, they inform the staff at Gorillas Doctors, a nongovernmental group whose veterinarians work in the forest. The vets monitor wounds and signs of respiratory infections, but intervene only sparingly.

When they do, they almost never remove the animals from the mountain.

“Our hospital is the forest,” says Jean Bosco Noheli, a veterinarian at Gorilla Doctors. When his team goes into the field to address a gorilla emergency, they must carry everything they might need in equipment bags weighing up to 100 pounds — including portable X-ray machines.

Schaller conducted the first detailed studies of mountain gorillas in the 1950s and early ’60s. He also was the first to discover that wild gorillas could, over time, become comfortable with periodic human presence, a boon to researchers and, later, tourists.

Today, highly regulated tour groups hike in the Rwandan rainforest to watch gorillas.

Ticket revenue pays for operating costs and outstrips what might have been made from converting the rainforest to potato farms and cattle pastures. About 40% of the forest already was cleared for agriculture in the early 1970s.

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Gorillas share about 98% of human DNA. Pixabay

“With tourism, the tension is always not to overexploit,” says Dirck Byler, great ape conservation director at the nonprofit Global Wildlife Conservation, which is not involved in the Rwanda gorilla project. “But in Rwanda, so far they’re careful, and it’s working.”

The idea of using tourism to help fund conservation was contentious when conservationists Bill Weber and Amy Vedder first proposed it while living in Rwanda during the 1970s and ’80s. Fossey herself was skeptical, but the pair persisted.

“The wonder of the gorillas’ lives, their curiosity, their social interactions — we felt that’s something that could be accessible to others, through careful tourism,” Vedder says.

Figuring out the balance of how many people could visit the forest, and for how long, was a delicate process of trial and error, Weber says.

In 2005, the Rwandan government adopted a model to steer 5% of tourism revenue from Volcanoes National Park to build infrastructure in surrounding villages, including schools and health clinics. Two years ago, the share was raised to 10%.

To date, about $2 million has gone into funding village projects, chief park warden Prosper Uwingeli says.

“We don’t want to protect the park with guns. We want to protect and conserve this park with people who understand why, and who take responsibility,” he says.

The money from tourism helps, but the region is still poor.

Jean Claude Masengesho lives with his parents and helps them farm potatoes. About once a week, the 21-year-old earns a little extra money helping tourists carry their bags up the mountain, totaling about $45 a month. He would someday like to become a tour guide, which could earn him about $320 monthly.

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The obstacle is that most tour guides have attended college, and Masengesho isn’t sure how his family can afford tuition.

“It’s my dream, but it’s very hard,” he says. “In this village, every young person’s dream is to work in the park.” (VOA)