2019 Winners and Honourable Mentions

Day 2: Wildlife
11 June 2019


The Wilderness Downtown
Lancelan Pegan anak Roland Sagah

The birds flew away with loud chirps. The purple sky gave way to twilight. In the dim glow of the fireflies, the jungle had a second awakening. From the forest floor came the raccoons. One by one, they came out of their logs and their hidey-holes. There, they started their silent walk through the forest. Their stomachs were empty and growling. In the dark of night, their day had dawned.

Quietly, they went on the prowl. Foraging over the soft, damp ground, they looked for berries and the odd insect on which to munch. The high trees and rocky land gave the raccoons a veritable playground in which to roam around. And so, they ran, freely, over the cresting hills and through the flowing rivers. The cool forest air refreshed them as it hit their face. After a long day of gathering their sustenance, they retired to their logs, in tired comfort. They rested well in the comfort that no matter what, they’d find a way to live another day in paradise.

This was their routine. This was familiar. This was home.


A loud honking jolted the raccoons from their restless sleep. This only meant one thing. The concrete jungle had risen again from its short reprieve.

The raccoons clambered out of their home of broken plastic and hollowed-out containers. The coarse, tiled pavement of the streets made their feet tired and worn. The rolling hills and streams had given way to flat, drab concrete. The air went sour, almost suffocating. Even the crickets had left. Their gentle chirping was nowhere to be heard. In their absence, drills, hums and sirens filled the air. The weary-eyed raccoons set upon their nightly walk through the wilderness downtown.

They dug through the empty rubbish bins and back alleys, looking for any scraps or leftover food waste to subsist on. There were few berries or vegetables to be found. At most, they found a leftover lettuce leaf or tomato slice from the remnants of a burger or wrap. Even then, they had to scurry. It was too risky to stay out any longer than they needed to. If anybody spotted them, it would mean the end.

By the end of the day, with half-filled bellies, they returned to their tiny corners and tried their best to rest. This was their life now. Living in shadows. Living a life that never stopped or slowed down. Living in fear.

But they knew how to thrive, even as the wooden walls around them gave way to asphalt and dead shopping malls.

The wilderness would survive.


Reminiscing with a friend
Chamath Kalanaka Vithanawasam

As the leaves rustled, the birds chirped, and the thundering mating call of the Orang Utang came from the depths of the wilderness, Thaalu and Kimo gazed at the slow rising morning sun. Despite it being a new day, what some would consider a fresh start, the duo felt tired and somewhat spent. They didn’t look at each other much, they didn’t feel the need to. Rather, they wanted to relax and enjoy the sun. The radiating warmth felt like it was calmly fighting, and winning, over the cold air that the night had left behind. To the duo, this felt extremely satisfying.

“Do you remember,” Kimo asked, “when we first heard the cries of those monkeys?”

“The apes, silly,” said Thaalu showing that urge she always had to correct her comrade. She probably felt she had to fix an error so significant. “You really should know this by now, we are professionals in this field. The Orang Utang are apes, and yes, how could I forget. The first time we heard it, it scared us both! We thought they were coming to jump on us.”

They chuckled for a while and nodded in agreement. “You’re right, Thaalu. We were terrified. Glad we got used to it after some time.” Kimo probably thought it wise not to stare at the intensifying morning sun and was now looking elsewhere. He thought to himself how much the sounds of the Orang Utang reminded him of the local wildlife, and despite it being a little scary, there was an almost primal part of him that enjoyed it.

“I like it though,” he confessed to Thaalu, “I feel like I enjoyed it a bit more every time I heard it. Not just that, I love looking at the mouse deer scamper around here, listening to the toads and their silly noises, and I definitely love looking at those pretty hornbills when they show up.”

Thaalu teared as Kimo said all this. “I enjoyed it too, buddy,” she mumbled to her friend, “I enjoyed the smell after a heavy rain, I smiled as the apes swung through branches all these years, and I too enjoyed seeing those hornbills.”

As soon as she heard the gas guzzling wood cutting vehicles rumbling toward them in the distance, she asked, “What… do you think they will do to you?”

“Well I suppose ending up a table won’t be such a bad thing,” he replied, in that naive tone he always seemed to have. “Let’s just hope we won’t end up as firewood, that might hurt.”

Thaalu mustered up the bravery to smile at Kimo’s response. It was the least she could do to keep the atmosphere slightly chirpy. After all, it was not about to get any better.

“We had a good time here,” Thaalu said as she sighed. As the harvesters broke through the smaller trees and reached their destination, Kimo and Thaalu recollected all their fond memories and waited for the inevitable.

Twenty Years Ago
Rowena anak Ringkai

"Mama, what are these?"

Twenty years ago, it would have been easy for a child to identify a polar bear in a book. They would recognize its white fur, as pure as their snow used to be. Polar bears were only the beginning of they are missing. Giraffes, gorillas, orang utans and the list went on and on. Since they went extinct, they hadn't been brought up as much as they're used to. 

"That's a polar bear, sweetheart," Sara told her five-year old.

"Polar bears?"

It felt like a dream now, for Sara to tell her children of how rich the wildlife used to be. A far away memory tucked into the recesses of her mind for she had long forgotten that they used to exist, and how her best childhood memories were of her going to the zoo with her parents. Her children could not even begin to fathom the animals she would describe to them. How could they? The last twenty years have been harsh. There were hardly any forests left, the weather was irregular with sudden chills and sweltering heat alike and the chronic smog had forced most families to stay indoors for most of the day. Never mind the creatures that breathed life into forests and oceans, the children could not even fathom the idea of clean air and water. What foreign concepts they have become.

"Polar bears don't exist anymore."

"Why not?"

How could Sara explain the horrendous acts done by their ancestors, the dire consequences that followed, the deaths that they have caused- to a child?

"Well, they used to live in a very icy, cold place. But the ice melted because the sun got too hot," Sara explained. "When the ice melted, the waters got higher and the bears couldn't swim, so they all died."

It was slightly morbid but the children of the era understood pain and hardships better than they did dreams and fantasies because the reality was that they were born into a world half-destroyed with no way to save it. They would never know the joy of breathing deeply without three layers of face masks, or picnics by the river, or playing in the streets barefeet, or lying on the beach, or seeing flowers grow- all because of their downfall from twenty years ago.

The little girl looked up at her mother with her big, innocent eyes. "All of them died?"

"All of them."

"Are we going to die like the polar bears, mama?" She asked. "Are we going to drown like they did?"

It was a question that Sara knew the answer to but could not bear to say out loud.

"Of course not, sweetheart."

Sara wished that different choices had been made, that more animals had been saved and that humans had more care. The damages made were irreversible. She wished that she could go back in time, to tell people how the world was ending because of their mistakes- back to twenty years ago.