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Fostering Coexistence: Nurturing Wildlife Harmony at NUS

Updated: 21 hours ago

Article by Ruth Ang, NUS Macaque Research Student

March 2024


I knew smooth-coated otters and long-tailed macaques are among the most fascinating animals in Singapore but never imagined I’d be part of a team ensuring their safety in the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus!


Long-tailed Macaques


During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a troop of long-tailed macaques became regular visitors to King Edward VII (KE7) residential hall, and a neighbouring residence, Prince George’s Park (PGP), both on the ridge at NUS. As covid restrictions eased in 2021, I took up residence at KE7 along with other students and we were fortunate to be graced with the sight of macaques from dawn to dusk.

However, with the return of students, more food was available and by 2022, macaques were raiding the kitchenettes and pantries in each block of the hall and rummaging through bins for food. The residents who are generally unfamiliar with wildlife began to have close encounters with roaming macaques which they were unprepared for.


When intrusions peaked in Jan-Feb 2023, NUS’ Office of Housing Services sought help from NParks who alerted the Long-Tailed Macaque Working Group which my lecturer, wildlife biologist N. Sivasothi aka ‘Otterman’, is part of. I provided him with detailed photo/video updates and he linked me with Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES). By 8th March 2023, I had organised the first site visit by ACRES’ Jocelyn Chng. She very quickly assessed the situation and recommended a slew of exclusion measures which KE7 management adopted in entirety – they put up advisories, stopped visibly exposing food, installed child-proof locks on cupboards and made dustbins lockable. 


While measures appeared to be working, KE7 would be better prepared if some students knew what to do. So I arranged for a macaque coexistence workshop on 20 April 2023 at which Jocelyn taught the student participants an understanding of various macaque behaviours and basic monkey guarding skills. Their boosted confidence meant we had more allies who could ensure a peaceful coexistence with macaques in future.


Since I had been tracking the macaques closely all this while, I took up an undergraduate research project with Otterman during the semester break (May – Jul 2023). I studied the troop structure, behavioural status, encounter frequencies, movement and activity patterns. This group of monkeys was not assertive, and were moving from a nearby forest patch through the KE7 buildings which facilitated their movement through the ridge in search of food. Meanwhile, the food denial efforts were paying off – troop sightings had halved, just four macaques remained, and they were no longer foraging in kitchenettes and pantries in May and June 2023. After a semester abroad, I returned to KE7 and look forward to monitoring them once again. Macaques continue to use green spaces around KE7, but with minimal disruption. Speaking to new KE7 residents, it's clear that attitudes towards the macaques have shifted positively, from fear to coexistence. Knowing that I played a part in fostering this change fills me with a sense of stewardship.



Smooth-coated Otters


While conducting my macaque research project, smooth-coated otters were spotted in KE7! Initially observed under our squash courts in April 2023, a male and female otter moved with their five pups to beneath a KE7 block. KE7 residents welcomed the otters, but the Otter Woking Group cautioned against the proximity of pups with resident walkways. Thankfully most students were away during this period and signs warned users to keep a clear distance in the area. Other research students Collin Chua and Dionne Tan were closely tracking the populations and behaviour of otters in the south-west of Singapore, and they reported that once the pups were old enough to move out of the holt, the family moved out of KE7 on 7th June and haven't returned.



Conclusion


It's heartening to witness how simple mitigation measures can foster human-wildlife coexistence among more than 500 residents. Our experiences have forged a shared identity among KE7 residents, who have embraced the opportunity to host diverse wildlife. We will persist with this education effort and will collaborate with neighbouring communities. For animal enthusiasts like us, it's been an exciting journey observing these creatures on our doorstep and supporting their coexistence with us!

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