Confessions of a primate researcher in Singapore

Jan Lee New Paper 13 Nov 17;

Kate and Spade, Blackberry and Burberry, Snow White and Snowflake - Miss Sabrina Jabbar, 27, rattles off these names with a chuckle.

They are names given to unique mother and child combinations of an endangered primate species in Singapore - the Raffles' banded langur.

A primate researcher, Miss Jabbar is part of a working group here led by primatologist Andie Ang to understand and better protect the species. She is also a volunteer at the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore).

Miss Jabbar said that although people often think that primates are indistinguishable within species, they have unique faces and personalities.

Observing primates for a living means she spends weekdays trekking in the forests of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve from 7am to 5pm, often with Dr Ang.

These trips cover a distance of 15km and staring at trees waiting for langurs to appear, collecting poop samples and walking in the rain with a camera are all par for the course.

Miss Jabbar first got involved with wildlife after her O levels, when she worked at the Night Safari and later the Singapore Zoo. Her time there piqued her interest in primates.

To pursue that interest, she joined the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society.

That was where she started "monkey guarding", a little-known programme she still helps monitor today as a volunteer.

She trained security guards of residences in Bukit Timah in identifying macaque hot spots, prominent macaques, high-risk behaviours that attract the animals and the steps to deter them from entering the premises.

"It is better than simply setting traps and culling the animals because that does not solve the problem," said Miss Jabbar.

Sometimes she is called to assist in accidents, as in 2013, when a macaque named Mia was found with a fractured pelvis below a bridge in MacRitchie Reservoir.

She helped nurse the monkey back to health before releasing it back into the wild.

Coincidentally, Mia was found at the same spot two years later, pregnant and with injuries.

The two rescues means Mia is familiar with Miss Jabbar. Even now, when their paths cross on Miss Jabbar's field trips, Mia sometimes smacks her lips at her - a sign of affection.


Always be prepared for what might happen in the forest. Snacks, water, raincoats and portable chargers are a must.

Do not get too attached to the animals. Monkeys who "imprint" on humans may find it hard to live in the wild again.

Exercise regularly. Being a primate researcher can be a physically demanding occupation.