Aside from natural riverbanks and beaches, Smooth-coated Otters can now be found in our urban waterways
(source: TAC staff’s photo)

 

From wild boars roaming our residential areas to otter families becoming synonymous with our city’s iconic locales, there have been increasing reports of wildlife sightings in urban areas. As boundaries between wildlife and humans seem to increasingly blur, urbanites in Singapore have been encountering more of our wild neighbours.

 

Why are we interacting with more wildlife?

Increasingly frequent interactions between wildlife and humans may be caused by several factors. One factor of recent relevance is the increasing number of people choosing to spend their time exploring natural spaces for recreation and to seek solace from the grind of daily urban life, especially in the light of the current COVID-19 situation.

Secondly, Singapore’s recent efforts to conserve our native biodiversity, natural habitats, and improve connectivity between these natural areas have brought about ecological successes. This includes the resurgence of wildlife, such as the once locally extinct Oriental Pied Hornbills and the Critically Endangered Smooth-coated Otters. With their populations recovering on the mainland, coupled with their ability to adapt to living in urban landscapes, more wildlife can now be found in heartland neighbourhoods and even in the Central Business District.

 

Oriental Pied Hornbill, once locally extinct, are now thriving on the mainland and can be spotted in our neighbourhoods
(source: TAC staff’s photo)

 

However, arguably the most critical factor for increased human-wildlife interactions is that as a result of Singapore’s development over the years, much of the natural habitats have been destroyed, fragmented, and disconnected. This indirectly causes wildlife to interact with humans as they pass through urban areas to reach other fragmented areas. As Singapore continues to expand its developments to meet her growing housing and economic needs, this phenomenon of human-wildlife interaction will only become more prevalent. Singapore’s limited land area means that humans and wildlife must coexist, especially within close proximity to the Nature Reserves, Nature Parks, and other forested areas.

 

The damaging side of human-wildlife interactions

Generally, encounters with wildlife end with a picture or two taken and a lasting memory of the fascinating encounter. However, such encounters may also take a turn towards the harmful side. People may behave inappropriately during such encounters, approaching or harassing the animal. Wild animals may then feel threatened and react defensively, especially those with young ones to protect.

There have been reports of altercations in recent years, such as an incident in 2017 involving a family of otters with pups in the Gardens by the Bay. The otters were spotted in a pond and attracted the crowd’s attention. During the interaction, some onlookers reportedly gathered within touching distance of the otter family. As a result, a girl was bitten and sustained injuries to her foot.

 

There have been several reports of incidents between humans and wild boars over the past few months
(source: TAC’s camera trap photo)

 

Incidents may also occur when wildlife is lured into residential neighbourhoods either intentionally through illegal feeding or unintentionally due to the presence of food waste. Feeding changes animals’ foraging behaviour, influencing them to leave their natural habitat and to lose caution of humans. Wild animals may also become dependent on external feeding, reducing important ecological services they provide while foraging in the wild, such as seed dispersal. Feeding wild animals also leads to an artificial boost of their population sizes beyond what a natural forest can sustain. These factors may lead to a vicious cycle of feeding and dependence, which occasionally results in conflict.

Roadkill is another consequence of displacing wildlife from their natural habitat. Uncontrolled movement of displaced wildlife onto roads can put wild animals at the mercy of vehicular traffic. Large animals may also become road hazards that cause accidents, resulting in serious injuries and even fatalities to both humans and wildlife. For rare fauna species already threatened by other environmental issues, vehicular collision may be another threat that exacerbates their risk of extinction. In fact, a report in 2019 found that the main threat faced by the Critically Endangered Sunda Pangolin in Singapore is wildlife-vehicle collision on the road.

 

Long-tailed Macaques waiting for food handouts from passer-by drivers risk injury and death
(source: TAC staff’s photo)

 

Ways to de-escalate human-wildlife conflict

As human-wildlife conflict can lead to detrimental outcomes such as human injury, loss of biodiversity, and degraded ecological services that biodiversity provides, it is vital that efforts are taken to address this issue. With blurring spatial boundaries between humans and wildlife, it is necessary to ensure that we safeguard and appreciate our biodiversity responsibly.

 

Increasing Public Awareness and Knowledge of Our Wildlife

The role we play in avoiding conflict is essential. Education is key – with knowledge on how to behave appropriately around wildlife and a better understanding of their ecology, we can experience safe and peaceful interactions with our natural world.

 

Training Developers and Construction Personnel

When developments take place, there is a need to implement measures that reduce the risk of human-wildlife conflict. To minimise and avoid such conflict, developers should ensure that their construction personnel have sufficient knowledge on the wildlife they may encounter at work sites. This can be achieved through biodiversity awareness training programmes. They can also make preparations for wildlife encounters, such as developing response and rescue plans which lay out protocols, appropriate actions to take, and information on which wildlife management agencies and rescues to contact when needed.

 

Safeguarding wildlife during development

It is crucial to conduct baseline studies and impact assessments prior to construction. Such studies will help to determine wildlife presence in development sites, identify the species of conservation significance, and assess potential risks to the biodiversity. Wildlife management plans should be developed based on those findings and incorporated into the Environmental Management and Monitoring Plans (EMMP) to mitigate and minimise impacts.

In light of risks from uncontrolled wildlife displacement, such as road hazards and roadkill, strategies to minimise these risks should be outlined in wildlife management plans and be implemented prior to and during construction. Such strategies include appropriate procedures and practices such as the erection of proper hoarding along the perimeter of construction sites to prevent wildlife from moving into nearby roads or urban area.

Wildlife corridors can also be established to provide safe passages for animals and to act as connectors with designated forested areas outside of developmental boundaries. Another good practice is directional clearance of vegetation in phases, which encourages animals to move towards established wildlife corridors where they can eventually travel into nearby unaffected forests away from roads and urbanised areas.

 

The way forward

Human-wildlife conflict is a complex phenomenon with a multitude of contributing factors. As our interaction with wildlife becomes more frequent and evolves, our efforts must also increase to ensure peaceful interactions. Ultimately, to enjoy the fruits of our development and the ecological services which nature and biodiversity provide for us, we must learn to harmoniously co-exist with the animals and nature around us.

 

Kindly submit any inquiries concerning wildlife management to enquiry@tembusuasia.com.

 

References

Beatley, T. (2020). The Bird-Friendly City: Creating Safe Urban Habitats. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Dickman, A. (2010). Complexities of conflict: the importance of considering social factors for effectively resolving human-wildlife conflict. Animal Conservation, 13, 458-466. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2010.00368.x

Khoo, M., & Lee, B.-H. (2020). The urban Smooth‐coated otters Lutrogale perspicillata of Singapore: a review of the reasons for success. International Zoo Yearbook, 54, 60-71. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/izy.12262

Newsome , D., & Rodger, K. (2008 ). To feed or not to feed: a contentious issue in wildlife tourism. N.S.W: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales.

Yeo, J.-H., & Neo, H. (2010). Monkey business: Human-animal conflicts in urban Singapore. Social & Cultural Geography, 11(7), 681- 699. doi:10.1080/14649365.2010.508565

Yue, S., Bonebrake, T. C., & Gibson, L. (2019). Human-snake Conflict Patterns in a Dense Urban-Forest Mosaic Landscape. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 14(1), 143-154. Retrieved from http://www.herpconbio.org/Volume_14/Issue_1/Yue_etal_2019.pdf