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Some residents in Thomson tell how they live with brutish wild boars and hungry monkeys

SINGAPORE — Residents along Old Upper Thomson Road are used to seeing wildlife, with many of their homes a stone’s throw away from nature. These animals are not so much of a nuisance to them, although the residents have also learnt to signal to these creatures that there are boundaries to observe and not cross.

Dr Adrian Loo, group director of wildlife management at the National Parks Board, said that a healthy co-existence with nature also means keeping a distance while humans observe wildlife and not interacting with wild animals.

Dr Adrian Loo, group director of wildlife management at the National Parks Board, said that a healthy co-existence with nature also means keeping a distance while humans observe wildlife and not interacting with wild animals.

  • Wildlife sightings in public spaces and housing estates have become more commonplace
  • Experts said it is partly because people are heading into parks and natural habitats more often
  • It is also because visitors cannot drop the bad habit of feeding the creatures
  • NParks said that keeping a distance from wildlife and not feeding them is crucial to co-existence

 

SINGAPORE — Residents along Old Upper Thomson Road are used to seeing wildlife, with many of their homes a stone’s throw away from nature. These animals are not so much of a nuisance to them, although the residents have also learnt to signal to these creatures that there are boundaries to observe and not cross.

One woman, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Neo, said that when she takes walks at the nearby Lower Pierce Reservoir park, she will take a stick with her to fend off any macaques or wild boars that turn aggressive. 

“They can be very vicious especially if they are looking for food,” the 53-year-old housewife who has lived in the area for nine years said. 

She will also make sure to close her windows in the day so that monkeys do not climb into her home.

These are just some methods that the people have devised to protect themselves from any nasty encounters with wildlife.

They also hope that the rest of Singapore — especially those visiting the nature reserves nearby — can be more aware of what they should and should not do, and not startle or feed the wildlife in their neighbourhood. 

A monkey at Lower Peirce Reservoir. Photo: Justin Ong/TODAY

Wildlife sightings have become more commonplace in the past year, especially those in urban spaces and newer residential areas in the last few months. 

There had been videos put up online of otters entering MRT stations and crossing busy roads.

Residents in Punggol have reported seeing more macaques in their estates, with some worrying for their children’s safety. 

There have also been interactions with wildlife, some which had turned violent. 

In February, two separate incidents of wild boar attacks occurred along Punggol Walk, with two people taken to hospital. 

The week after, a woman and an officer from the National Park Boards (NParks) were attacked by a wild boar at Punggol while trying to capture it. 

Experts said that the increased sightings and interactions with wildlife may be a “new normal” and residents may have to adapt to it. If the right precautions and habits are fostered, humans can live harmoniously among wildlife, they added. 

MARKING THEIR PARAMETERS

A 76-year-old retiree who gave his name as just Edward, and who lives along Old Upper Thomson Road, said that when he first moved into his landed home six years ago, he had absent-mindedly left a bunch of bananas in the living room and later found a macaque sitting on his dining table “having a feast”. 

Now, he will close all the windows to keep the macaques out, and makes sure that he does not plant any fruit trees for the primates to harvest. 

Despite his vigilance, he is afraid that it will be undone by visitors in the area, who head to Thomson from all over the island to hike at the nearby nature reserve. 

“People have been giving food, although they know there is a fine,” Edward said. “Maybe they want to give their children some joy in throwing food but from there, you see more and more wildlife.” 

These are lessons that residents in younger housing estates such as Punggol will likely have to learn in the coming years, he said. 

Signs along Old Upper Thomson Road telling people not to feed animals. Photo: Justin Ong/TODAY

Some Punggol residents interviewed by TODAY said that they indeed have little experience in how to deal with wildlife venturing near their homes. The recent encounters with wild boars and macaques are a new and surprising phenomenon, they said. 

Mr Gavin Leow, 37, who has been a Punggol resident for five years and works in the construction industry, said that it was only this year that he had heard about wild boars appearing in the area, though he has not personally seen any. 

Having a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, he is concerned about their safety should there be an increase in the wild boar population. 

“We enjoy the wildlife here, but if they start to pose threats, then we will have fears,” he said. 

Housewife Margaret Toh, 65, said that she is now on guard when she takes her six-year-old grandchild out for walks along the park connector at Punggol Riverside Walk — the first time that she has felt this way in 10 years.

Unlike in the past, when culling of animals was the typical immediate response to complaints about “disturbances” from wildlife, the people who were interviewed mostly said that this was not the best approach. 

Ms Toh said that education and pre-emptive action rather than culling is key. 

“Residents may want to take a picture or feed them,” she noted, adding that such people should be better educated, but she is unsure about how that can be done. 

“We also have a part to play, because we sometimes disregard that these animals are wild and still go close to them, and when they attack, it’s too late.”

A cyclist stopping near a group of monkeys at a park connector in Punggol. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

She added that the authorities should allocate personnel to walk around the estates to look out for wild boars and prevent an attack, or to fine people who feed the animals. 

EUTHANASIA A LAST RESORT

Wildlife experts said that instead of trying to draw a line between natural and urban areas, the encroachment of residential areas into nature means that people here will have to look to a future when living alongside wildlife is the new normal. 

Dr Andie Ang, a research scientist with Mandai Nature, which conducts surveys of forested areas, said: “We need to live in harmony with these wild neighbours, and co-exist with them because we are sharing so much of the habitat and there’s so much overlap in the space.”

The experts also said that culling is not needed now, because there is no issue at the moment with overpopulation of wildlife. 

Primate researcher Sabrina Jabbar, who is also a project assistant at the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund, said data provided by NParks showed that there is no overpopulation of macaques, and even for aggressive animals, euthanasia and removal of the animals from their habitats is a last resort. 

“We don’t want people to think that every time they see a macaque that is potentially dangerous, they ask for a removal,” she said. 

“People need to be educated on what to do — and what not to do when they see a macaque… sometimes you don’t need to react and the animal will move away.” 

OTTERS

Mr N Sivasothi, a biology lecturer at the National University of Singapore, said that the otter populations are also naturally controlled. They feed on fish found in the canals and rivers here, rather than on food provided by humans. 

“The otters are not going to overpopulate because the limiting factor is the fish,” Mr Sivasothi said.

An otter having a meal of fresh fish. TODAY file photo

“The good thing is that people are not going to be able to provide live fish to the otters, so the situation does not escalate like it has for long-tailed macaques.”  

‘TRAVEL-STARVED’ PARK-GOERS

Mr Chiok Wen Xuan, a mammal researcher from the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University, said that wild boar populations may seem to be booming only because more people have been visiting parks and natural areas, having been travel-starved during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

On the authorities' part, Mr Chiok said that they could make environmental impact assessments (EIAs) compulsory, with a clearly spelt out legal framework for developers who have projects involving the potential clearing of significant tracts of forests.

He said that the guidelines now “are not mandatory and developers do not need to fully adhere to them”.

An EIA is crucial because it would inform developers on the ecological impacts of developing an area, and to properly shepherd wildlife out of the said areas as a mitigation measure, for instance, Mr Chiok added.

“In some countries like Australia, EIAs are mandatory by law, and clear penalties are imposed if developers flout it” he said. “Ultimately, the aim should be codifying it into law.” 

Dr Ang of Mandai Nature said that while the Government’s initiative to plant a million trees is a “fantastic idea”, it is not the same as preserving existing habitat or “keeping a million trees”.

LEARN TO KEEP A DISTANCE

In response to queries from TODAY, Dr Adrian Loo, group director of wildlife management at NParks, said that the agency’s efforts to enhance Singapore's natural spaces have “brought people closer to nature”. 

“Park users can enjoy bird-watching, take part in programmes such as Garden Bird Watch to survey bird biodiversity, or enjoy watching otters take care of their pups along our rivers.”

He said that NParks takes a science-based approach to understanding the ecology and distribution of wildlife, and this helps promote human-wildlife co-existence since urban structures here are in close proximity to green spaces. 

“For example, a healthy co-existence with nature also means keeping a distance while we observe wildlife and not interacting with wild animals,” Dr Loo said. 

A sign telling people to move calmly away when they see a wild boar and not to take photos with flash. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

There should also be no feeding of wildlife, because it will lead to them relying on humans as an easy source of food. They will then venture into urban areas in search of it. Feeding by humans can also lead to an unnatural population growth of wildlife. 

Aside from increased fines for recalcitrant feeders, NParks will also work closely with public agencies as well as non-governmental organisations and academic institutes to educate the community on wildlife-related issues, including feeding. 

It will also put in place measures with other agencies to ensure that public safety will not be compromised, Dr Loo added. 

“A city in nature will enable the community to forge closer bonds through active stewardship of the environment,” he said.

“NParks hopes that our efforts will engender a new way of living with and alongside nature, fostering a more gracious and caring society.”

Related topics

wildlife NParks wild boar Thomson Punggol

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