Saving Singapore’s biodiversity means sharing space with nature: experts

·Senior Reporter
·7-min read
A Raffles' banded langur and its baby. (PHOTO: Sabrina Jabbar) The Raffles' banded langur is a species of monkeys that are found only in southern Malaysia and Singapore, where they are critically endangered. There are ongoing conservation efforts and field research to ensure the long-term survival of these animals in Singapore.
A Raffles' banded langur and its baby. (PHOTO: Sabrina Jabbar)
The Raffles' banded langur is a species of monkeys that are found only in southern Malaysia and Singapore, where they are critically endangered. There are ongoing conservation efforts and field research to ensure the long-term survival of these animals in Singapore.

SINGAPORE — Otters crossing roads in the central business district, wild boars foraging in residential areas and snakes in toilet bowls. These are examples of wildlife venturing beyond their native habitats into urban districts – and making it into the media in recent years.

Well, this will be the norm – Singaporeans should expect to share their space with local flora and fauna, experts tell Yahoo News Singapore.

In fact, in balancing the needs of a growing population and protecting biodiversity, the government has set up structures in place that promote space sharing. A prime example is the park connector network.

Park connectors have allowed more adaptable wildlife to expand their habitats, said N Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore (NUS). Currently, 36km of the park connector network – the coast-to-coast trail from Jurong Lake Gardens to Coney Island Park – is complete, with 324km of the trail still in the works and slated to be finished by 2030. 

The park connector network was initially a "simple linear concrete path", said Sivasothi, but it evolved and improved over time.

"There's a lot of contest for space. PUB (Public Utilities Board) wants it for waterways, LTA (Land Transport Authority) wants it for roads, HDB (Housing Development Board) wants it for residences," he said. 

"Then, it got green, and as all the agencies came onboard, co-operation to integrate these kinds of connectors improved." 

Professor N Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore (NUS). (PHOTO: Yahoo TV Southeast Asia)
Professor N Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore (NUS). (PHOTO: Yahoo TV Southeast Asia)

While many might think that the park connectors primarily facilitate the movement of people, they also support the bolder animal species, said the professor.

"In NUS now, I can hear... kingfishers, straw-headed bulbul, the southern-pied hornbill... these turned up by using the park connectors to move around," he said.

"This connectivity is allowing animals to explore linear spaces and expand the kind of space they have. So the more adaptable species are able to make use of these spaces. In the meantime, (for) the less adaptable ones, it's very important that our forest core (central parts of the forest in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve) is looked after." 

Changing the way we use land

As people begin to appreciate the value and importance of nature, more consultations and studies were done to discuss how to balance urban and wildlife needs. The accidental deforestation of a parcel of Kranji Forest, and the possible clearing of Dover Forest to make way for housing, were issues that captured national attention earlier this year, raising the question of whether there are ways to reconcile land use with biodiversity. 

Sivasothi suggested stacking up manufacturing needs where possible.

Similarly, Dr Andie Ang, a primatologist whose research is on the Raffles' banded langur – an endangered species of monkeys native to Singapore – said that it was a matter of making more efficient use of land, such as converting a single-storey carpark into a multi-storey carpark. 

"You don't have to clear forests to build new buildings. You can look at facilities and if it's no longer in use, it can be converted, or degraded land can be reforested," she said. 

Dr Andie Ang, a primatologist whose research is on the Raffles' banded langur. She chairs the Raffles' Banded Langur Working Group set up by Mandai Nature Fund in Singapore, and leads the research work for these animals. Dr Ang stated that these langurs help to keep the forests 'healthy' by dispersing seeds, thereby conserving the biodiversity of the island. (PHOTO: Yahoo TV Southeast Asia)
Dr Andie Ang, a primatologist whose research is on the Raffles' banded langur. She chairs the Raffles' Banded Langur Working Group set up by Mandai Nature Fund in Singapore, and leads the research work for these animals. Dr Ang stated that these langurs help to keep the forests 'healthy' by dispersing seeds, thereby conserving the biodiversity of the island. (PHOTO: Yahoo TV Southeast Asia)

Dr Ang has seen the decline of the langur population to near extinction due to fragmentation of their habitats in the 90s.

Fragmentation has also caused bolder species such as the macaques or otters to come into closer contact with humans, leading to conflicts. On this, Dr Ang said that it was important that people realised they shared spaces with the wildlife.

"If you're going to have a pond that is not fenced up or is really out there... you really cannot stop them from getting your koi so you need to come up with ways from preventing the otters from getting to it."

"As with wild pigs or boars, a lot of times, it's a combination of habitat clearance without proper mitigation, like moving them to another habitat, and also the feeding of wild animals... that attracts them out of the forest so that's when conflict can happen."

Individuals can be citizen scientists

People can contribute to conservation efforts simply by learning more about wildlife and sharing details with family and friends. The next step, Dr Ang said, would be to act as citizen scientists by collecting simple data while out in nature, such as the kinds of animals seen and what they're doing. 

Local citizen science initiatives involve members of the public taking simple courses before going out into the community to collect data on the species they learn about. Currently, there are citizen science programmes for butterflies, dragonflies, and birds. 

The information collected can be handed over to non-governmental organisations or NParks to aid conversation efforts, Dr Ang said. 

Dr Charlene Yeong, a zoological veterinarian and a manager of the Conservation and Wildlife Health department at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, concurred that the first step for an individual was simply to be interested in finding out more about nature. 

Dr Yeong helps rehabilitate rescued wildlife from around the island. These include reticulated pythons, or common palm civets, that get into vehicular or bicycle accidents, or are attacked by other wildlife.

Dr Charlene Yeong, Manager of Conservation & Wildlife Health at Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Her role as a veterinarian at the Singapore Zoo involves overseeing the treatment and rehabilitation of rescued widlife from all over the island. (PHOTO: Yahoo TV Southeast Asia)
Dr Charlene Yeong, Manager of Conservation & Wildlife Health at Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Her role as a veterinarian at the Singapore Zoo involves overseeing the treatment and rehabilitation of rescued widlife from all over the island. (PHOTO: Yahoo TV Southeast Asia)

"The more we're aware of our environment, I think the more that we can do. So even simple things like recycling more. A lot of rescue animals come in as trauma cases potentially with motor vehicle accidents, (so) one of the very important things that people can do, especially in Singapore, is to drive more responsibly, more carefully."

The government and NGOs can also ensure that habitats are not only intact, but robust enough to support the animals so that they are discouraged from moving beyond, added Dr Yeong. 

"And what that means is... enough shelter, enough food, enough space to move away from one another if they need to, or to hang out if they want to. That also means ensuring that, for example, in a forest habitat, there are enough big trees and small trees and trees of different species (that) flower and fruit at different times of the year."

Infrastructure, like the eco-link bridge at the Bukit Timah Expressway, and even simple structures such as rope bridges used by monkeys, can prevent animals from having to cross roads. 

The bottom line is, according to the experts, humans must be willing to share space with nature. With that, perhaps a deeper "ecological connectivity" can be achieved that goes beyond park connectors. 

This would not just "connect the animals flying across (and) the ones that are using the canopy, but also the ones on the tree trunks, the ones on the ground and the ones in the aquatic systems", according to Sivasothi. 

"So that's the full suite. We are far from that right now." 

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