A Felid In Our Midst
Written by Daphne Ong, Volunteer at Singapore Wildcat Action Group
Small and slender, with a distinguishable tawny brown spotted coat and with a tail half as long as its body, the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) looks almost like a house cat from afar, except it is anything but. After the last Malayan tiger was shot in the 1930s, this petite feline became our islands’ last wildcat.
Once a common sight, the leopard cat population began to plunge as the island became more populous and forested lands made way for a developing nation. Based on the last study conducted within the past decade, the population seemed to number about 50 individuals with most of them found within military grounds, for good reason that most of these areas contain large swathes of undisturbed forests.
At incredibly low numbers coupled with their elusive nature, spotting a leopard cat in our city is no easy feat. Undeterred, the volunteers of Singapore Wildcat Action Group (SWAG) are still determined to seek out our city’s last wildcat. Over the past year, SWAG has been conducting Leopard Cat Quests to Pulau Ubin at night. These public walks allow city folk to explore an atypical nightlife while getting a chance to be acquainted with some of our wild neighbours, such as the greater mousedeer.
Amongst other efforts from the Love Our Leopard Cat campaign, the one that stands out in particular is the community wall mural that spans across the underpass at Elgin Bridge, Clarke Quay. A community effort, the mural was finished in over 3 weeks in December 2021 by volunteers and supporters. The mural aptly features our spotted feline alongside its wild friends depicted across the cityscape of Singapore — a country rich and thriving in biodiversity in our midst, only if we would stop to look.
(The illustration above shows the mural design for one of the walls. The hand painted mural, titled "The Future of Our Last Wildcat", is 20 metres long. The project was a collaboration between Singapore Wildcat Action Group (SWAG), Mural Lingo and Singapore River One.)
Over the past 20 years, 4 leopard cat roadkills have been recorded. For a small population, every one lost is one too many. Unfortunately, roadkills and habitat loss, including the increasing fragmentation of their habitats, remain the greatest threats to the leopard cats in Singapore. Maintaining forest connectivity and key corridors to ensure that they can cross safely without using roads will help to reduce their mortality. A fine example is the Eco-Link@BKE along the Bukit Timah Expressway that connects 2 important forest patches, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. To date, around 100 species of fauna have been recorded on Eco-Link@BKE.
Connecting and maintaining existing core habitats for our wild neighbours will allow them to continue to thrive even as our city continues to develop. Education and building up awareness in the community should also be a key component to maintain empathy towards our wildcat and many other species which are often misunderstood. While we strive to be a city in nature, we should work towards embracing an equitable future where our wild neighbours can also continue to call this city their home, and maybe just one day we will be able to spot our last wildcat in our midst!
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