Awash with wildlife

Greening of urban Singapore leads to more sightings of wild animals
Audrey Tan Straits Times 14 Apr 17;

Singapore's "City in a Garden" status appears to have received the stamp of approval from animals as well as men.

More land and sea creatures are making urban Singapore their home, and they are being seen more frequently too. For instance, about six weeks ago, five baby otters were born in the heart of the city at the Singapore River.

And in the past week, photographers flocked to Pek Kio Market and Food Centre to document the rare sight of nesting blue-crowned hanging parrots and their chicks.

The increased wildlife sightings can be attributed to Singapore's successful go-green efforts, said experts. These include initiatives such as park connectors, vegetated buffer areas around nature reserves, and wildlife corridors - green belts that wildlife can use to get from one green space to another.

Eco-bridges, such as the one spanning the Bukit Timah Expressway, also link green spaces, noted Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore) and a senior lecturer at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU's) Asian School of the Environment.

Macaques often bother residents in areas close to their habitats, such as Thomson and Bukit Timah, by rummaging through the bins and even entering homes.

They have helped to boost Singapore's animal population and diversity by creating and enhancing living spaces for local wildlife.

"Without suitable habitats, animals cannot thrive, and by connecting pockets of habitat, the effective size increases," said Dr Lum.

The wild smooth-coated otters, for instance, have benefited from Singapore's network of clean and green waterways that teem with their favourite fish.

"About three decades ago, seeing an otter was like winning 4-D. Now, it is an almost guaranteed experience," said Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"Previously, all researchers saw was the scat, or droppings, of the otter,'' he added.

Prof Ng credits the growing abundance of the creatures to less pollution, cleaner waters and more habitats, saying: "The otters have become comfortable on the island."

But the joy of watching otters sunbathe on the floating platform at Marina Bay, or seeing pangolins explore NUS and NTU - they were spotted on campus last November - has been marred by clashes between man and beast.

Wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) responded last year to 93 cases of animals, such as pythons and wild boars, being run over by vehicles - almost 40 per cent more than the 67 cases in 2015.

Complaints about animals have risen too, with birds, monkeys and snakes topping the list, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

For birds, the number was 7,860 last year, against around 7,340 in the previous years. The corresponding figures for snakes are 850 and 780, and for monkeys, 910 and 750.

Dr Lum said part of the reason for the surge in complaints could be that the creatures are being forced out of their habitats as human homes encroach into the natural spaces. A case in point are the condominiums built near the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

In January, debates erupted over the culling of free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming and Pasir Ris after residents complained about them. The AVA said the birds posed a risk of spreading bird flu. However, many Singaporeans urged their fellow countrymen to appreciate the Republic's world of nature, especially as there is not much left of it.

Dr Lum agrees. Succeeding in bringing back various animals and birds, such as the otter and the hornbill, from the brink of extinction in Singapore is heartening, he said.

But there may be other native species edging closer to local extinction because they are more sensitive and confined to natural habitats, he pointed out. These animals, like the Raffles' banded langur, a shy monkey, may not be able to adapt as well to the urban environment. Most native animals are also restricted to little-disturbed deep forest habitats and do not easily coexist with development.

He acknowledged that it may not be easy to love every creature - insects, lizards and snakes are not necessarily cute and cuddly - "but they deserve a better fate than being stomped on, bludgeoned or exterminated because we don't like them". He added: "Singapore is a small place, but there is more than ample room to accommodate our lifestyles while permitting wildlife to enjoy theirs too."

WHAT TO DO WHEN ENCOUNTERING WILDLIFE
• When encountering a wild animal, be calm and move slowly away from the creature. Talking loudly or using flash photography, for example, could scare and provoke animals such as otters.

• Do not feed wild animals. They can find their own food in the natural environment, and their eating habits help keep the ecosystem healthy.

• Do not let pets, such as dogs, chase after wild animals as this may frighten them.

• Keep a safe distance when observing wildlife. No matter how cute wild boars may look, Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum advises against approaching them. The piglets, especially, should not be approached as their mother may react aggressively to defend them.

Sources: NParks, Dr Shawn Lum

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