Letter: Singaporeans must care for other wildlife other than the cute Bishan and Marina otters

A recent joint survey, between the Nanyang Technological University and Tokyo Metropolitan University, of about 1,000 people in Singapore produced some interesting observations.

First, the majority of respondents have a heart for certain animals like otters and hornbills, but not others like monkeys, snakes or wasps. It is wonderful that respondents have a heart for certain animals but this is where we as a nation must do better. The Bishan and Marina otter families have a large following because of their IG-worthiness. While cute, the otter population has grown significantly due to an absence of predators coupled with ample supplies of food and hundreds of kilometers of clean waterways. Over the years, the otters have decimated over $150,000 worth of fish and ornamental fish stocks at a commercial fishing pond in Pasir Ris and private residences and hotels and resorts at Sentosa. The financial cost is tangible and huge to those affected. How about speaking up for, protecting the rights of and educating others about the less cute looking animals in Singapore?

Second, more than 50 per cent of the respondents felt it would be more appropriate to move animals living near them somewhere else. For safety reasons, I agree with relocating snakes and wasp nests. However, Singaporeans appear to liberally exercise this relocation option all the time. For example, the innocent jungle fowl near Sin Ming Court. The chief impetus for many to call for their culling and relocation – noise pollution when they crow in the morning. Sin Ming court is located near the edge of the Bt Timah nature reserve and it is very likely the jungle fowl were first before humans. Also, there had previously been a recurrent problem with monkeys entering homes and private estates near secondary forests. The voices for culling naturally came to the fore. The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) found that fruit trees and improper garbage disposal attracted the monkeys to the locations. Acres piloted “monkey-herding” operations at several condominiums where Acres and condominium guards herded monkeys off premises. Acres understands that no culling has been done at the condominiums since the experiment started and that the monkeys are no longer causing trouble. Results however, could have been compromised by the culling in other parts of the neighbourhood.Pushing out original residents is frowned upon in every context so why shouldn’t it apply in this situation? Surely more bloodless “nudges” such as investing in proper garbage disposal are a more co-existential approach?

Third, the more exposure to nature and wildlife in childhood, the more tolerant participants are of problem-causing animals. Growing up in an urban environment, many in Singapore don’t know how to handle and react to animals. I have seen some clueless children and adults interact with cats and dogs with overenthusiastic but aggressive body language that unbeknownst to them stresses the animals. Recently, ACRES said a python found at a factory in Jurong was abused so badly it had to be put down. After eating three rats, the snake could not move, and the employees of the company kicked it and hit it with sticks. The python was in so much pain that it had to be euthanised. 

We humans need to understand we are encroaching invasively into the habitats of animals and we are the ones who need to learn how to coexist with nature and not destroy what we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with.