Article by Kerine Leong, NParks Wildlife Management and Outreach Manager
Seeing a wild animal in a city-state like Singapore may seem peculiar to the uninitiated, an oxymoron before your eyes. Indeed, within our bustling city, it is not uncommon to find curious long-tailed macaques exploring the fringes of their forest habitats, snakes and monitor lizards dwelling in the trees, or the occasional civet emerging gingerly under the cover of nightfall. Our waterways are even home to families of smooth-coated otters that have adapted to use its connectivity to travel from one place to another.
Despite our small land size, Singapore boasts a myriad of natural habitats from dry land tropical rainforests, mangroves or coral ecosystems, even within the built environments of our cityscape. Coupled with the restoration of green spaces into our urban environment, nature and wildlife have been brought closer to our everyday lives, allowing a range of wildlife to call our biophilic City in Nature home.
Native wildlife occupy crucial roles within our ecosystem, helping to pollinate plants, regulate our food web, serve as apex predators, and provide pest control to maintain a healthy and balanced ecosystem. Yet, their presence is often met with one of two distinct reactions from the public: Squeals of delight from being able to witness wildlife up close and personal, or quips that “Wildlife encounters are becoming commonplace”.
It is unsurprising that the overlap in high human population centres and wildlife distribution has resulted in a curious spectrum of responses towards wildlife from Singaporeans. For example, the resurgence of otters in our waterways in recent years has brought about mixed responses towards their presence. On one hand, our otters have become endeared icons within local culture and media, chosen for Singapore’s 51st birthday and even appearing on our TraceTogether App during the pandemic. Yet, these otters, unable to differentiate between wild and pet fish, occasionally wander into the ponds of private properties and consume beloved pet fish.
(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Teo)
Finding solutions to human-wildlife conflicts in our city remains a highly dynamic and multifaceted challenge – a delicate balance we wrestle daily to maintain. NParks takes on a multi-pronged approach to wildlife management in order to achieve a balanced ecosystem and safeguard public health and safety. This approach consists of population ecology, population management, public education, and community stewardship. We adopt an integrated approach to population management, which includes habitat modification, exclusion measures, removal of food provision, and direct population management.
We also aim to share the necessary knowledge with the public on how to have safe and responsible encounters with wildlife, working closely with stakeholders like nature groups and academics. Through continued population surveys and research studies, we can also better understand the distribution of wildlife throughout Singapore, allowing us to identify areas for conservation and inform our management strategies. In addition, our Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation provides veterinary care and rehabilitation for wild animals in Singapore and builds NParks’ expertise in the rescue, treatment and release of wildlife. It also enhances NParks’ bio-surveillance and wildlife population research capabilities. Furthermore, enshrined in local legislation is the Wildlife Act introduced in 2020, which serves to strengthen the protection, preservation and management of wildlife in Singapore. It prohibits the feeding, release, killing, trapping, taking, and keeping of wildlife without written approval from NParks, and regulates the import, sale, and export of wildlife.
While there is no silver bullet for human-wildlife conflict mitigation, the goal of transforming Singapore into a City in Nature offers a powerful vision of how we might re-envision our relationship with our wild neighbours. NParks’ multi-pronged approach to wildlife management and legislation ultimately endeavours to allow the community to safely share spaces with wildlife and enjoy the benefits of living close to nature. While human-wildlife coexistence remains a delicate dance, let us continue to work together as we refine the solutions so that humans, nature, and wildlife can live in harmony.