Macaque problem: Singapore needs to see nature beyond pragmatic purposes

Jacqueline Lim Today Online 18 Nov 13;

I refer to the letters, “People who feed macaques should be held accountable” (Nov 13) and “Separate areas for people, monkeys will help us co-exist” (Nov 15). I agree with the former, although the problem goes far deeper.

There would be issues not only with macaques, but also with other wildlife subsequently, if deeper thought is not given to the use of natural land.

Land scarcity is a major limitation here, which we have tried to resolve since the country started developing as an economic hub. One of the solutions has been deforestation to pave way for concrete and tar.

In Singapore, nature possesses more instrumental value than intrinsic value; land is regarded more for its economic value than its biotic community. Unsurprisingly, the macaques are reacting in the face of increasing human infringement of their territories.

The way nature is regarded here de-emphasises the importance of mutual dependency and cooperation, which are important elements of ecosystems.

For example, while Singapore has Tree Conservation Areas, these are selected and demarcated, interestingly, based on the “number of mature trees” within the areas that are “worth conserving” and, more importantly, trees that “enhance the beauty of the environment”. In other words, the subjective good of trees, and which types have more worth, is in relation to our standards and criteria. Singapore must start recognising the inherent worth and objective good of nature in the midst of urbanisation.

Current efforts in planning nature places considerately should be encouraged and even applauded. But we must be aware that there is more to nature than pragmatic purposes.