2019 Winners and Honourable Mentions

Day 2: Wildlife
11 June 2019


Ephraim Hii Xin En

"And yet another species bites the dust."

The final words of the newspaper article. The world's last tiger had succumbed to sickness in the cage he was born and raised in.

It meant nothing to me. I had never seen a tiger before save for on the national logo. All the article showed was photographs of the mask-wearing zookeepers.

It was as if they wanted to make us forget that it ever existed. 

And perhaps they succeeded.


In the present, the world viewed from space is a grey ball of clouds and haze. The only fish that exist come in cans. Water costs five ringgit per bottle.

The common people are plagued by debt, disease, and depression. Cars running on declining fossil fuels run through the labyrinth of tunnels and overpasses. Airplanes breaking the hazy black clouds.

The Institute for the Research and Preservation of Wildlife is where the last of the wild beasts are kept. Caged and unhappy, they traded their liberty for survival.

That was where they delivered the last tiger. And where he died.

Wood is a luxury. Meat is for the privileged. Warmth a treasure.

So is freedom.


My parents showed me photos taken from their time. Elephants, forever chewing on the same bit of sugarcane. Hornbills, their color faded and grey. Orangutans, looking eerily human.

Dolphins, breaking clear waves. Eagles, soaring through clear skies. Families, breathing clear air.

Extinct. Killed by greedy, selfish humans, whose aspirations led to the heck-hole of the world today.

They told me of jungles, lush and full of life. Then about the jungle outside, cold and lifeless.

I was younger then. I pictured the outside world, with its monkeys and tapirs, pitcher plants and rafflesia flowers, with the love and care of Mother Nature.

All my hopes and dreams were shattered the moment I stepped out of the apartment.


I had never smelt the fragrance of flowers. Never seen fluttering birds. Never heard calls of frogs during monsoon season. All I knew about those things came from textbooks and myths.

I have smelt the fumes of factories. Seen the towering skyscrapers. Heard the bustle of traffic, of humans too caught up in their business to look around. I knew those by experience.


"Undomesticated, wild animals." The dictionary's definition.

Majestic beings, free to frolic as they wish. The poet of old's definition.

Rats. Cockroaches. The common housefly. My definition.