The Wild Side – Singapore

Members of the Voices for Nature community are sharing their experiences of Nature where they live just in case you are planning a visit and want to see the wild side, too.

In a series of three, our friend in Singapore writes about animals past and present who share  the island with him.

BEYOND THE SKYSCRAPERS

 

 PHOTO: JEFFERY TEO

 

Singapore: a sterile, gleaming, high-rise financial centre. This is the impression I used to have of the city. In the Central Business District, it’s basically true. But look beyond the skyscrapers, there’s a lot more going on in this small island on the equator. In this series of three blogs, I will show you Singapore’s wild side.

SINGAPORE ANIMALS

In the 1850s tigers were so prevalent on the island that the Government offered a reward of $50 for each tiger killed and capitalism did the rest. The legend goes that the last tiger in Singapore was pursued into the billiards room of the Raffles Hotel, where it was then shot by the Principal.

Despite this inauspicious start to Singapore’s history, today there are still many charismatic creatures to be found amidst the jungles, waterways, and housing developments of the city. The official list is here: I will share with you a biased selection based on my favourites.

‘The Commoners’

Most days, just  walking around,  grabbing some street food or having a roam in a nearby green place, I come up close and personal with one of our common fellows. If you spend any time at all in Singapore, you’ll see and hear them too!

The Javan Mynah

The ‘pigeon’ of Singapore (although there are pigeons too). Has a bright yellow beak with matching legs and a fetching quiff. Commonly seen all over the island, but especially in food courts, snacking on leftover rice and noodles.

Long-tailed macaque monkey

Considered by some locals as a pest, these fun loving creatures can be found in and around Singapore’s main jungle areas. The foot of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the hiking trails in Macritchie Reservoir, and the jungle in Pulau Ubin are surefire places to spot a roaming gang of these cheeky monkeys. Keep your rucksack closed and don’t feed them – in true Singaporean style, heavy fines can be levied if you’re caught.

Black naped oriole

You can rarely spot them sitting still, but when they’re in flight you’ll be dazzled by a golden flash – and then they’re gone. Fast flying, loud chirping, and stunning yellow feathers. Found all over the island.

‘The Aristocrats’

Living with us on the island are some more elusive types. To spot one of these, you’ll need to make a bit of effort and have some luck.

 

Smooth-coated otters

An Asian breed, with an isolated presence in Iraq, the population of these otters has been growing in recent years in Singapore and Bishan’s now-famous otter family ( “the Bishan 10”) are much video-ed. Your best bet to see our otters is the Sungeih Buloh Wetland Reserve. But if you don’t fancy the trek up to the border with Malaysia – or you’re scared of crocodiles – there’s a chance to catch sight of these otters in other spots too. I’ve caught a glimpse of one in from the boardwalk in Macritchie Reservoir, as well as in Pulau Ubin. If you’re lucky you might catch them  in Marina Bay, in the very heart of the financial district’s skyscrapers.  

 

Wild boar

The far reaches of the island seem to be popular with these piggies, judging by reports of sightings at Punggol, Pasir Ris, and Tuas Link, as they venture out of the woods to scavenge for scraps (or friendly humans who like to feed them). Pulau Ubin and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve are your best bets for spotting them in their natural habitats. Use your common sense, especially when there are little ones around – there have been some very rare (but widely reported) instances of goring. More usual harmless sightings are often caught on amateur video, facebooked and even make the news -everybody loves a piggy!

‘The Legendaries’

I’ve never seen any of these but live in hope.  Every time I’m out in the jungle in Singapore, I reckon I’m going to come across my favourite, the pangolin, sleeping in a palm tree…

Pangolin

Nocturnal and critically endangered. Habitat loss and traffic accidents are the main issues for Singapore’s dwindling pangolin population. Globally, their populations have been devastated by poaching (the scales are used in Chinese medicine) and the pangolin holds the unfortunate title as the world’s most trafficked creature. If you ever do see one wandering the roads at night or lost in an urban part of town, you can call the ACRES hotline for assistance to get it back to safety

Horsfield’s flying squirrel

Horsfield’s is the only flying squirrel species that is still occasionally spotted in Singapore (the others haven’t been seen for decades). Most past sightings have been in Bukit Timah, but as nocturnal creatures you’ll have to be quite adventurous to be in with a chance of glimpsing one.

Dugong

Thought to be locally extinct in the 1980s, there have been sporadic sightings since then in the Johor Strait. These gentle sea giants have occasionally found themselves stranded on the East Coast and Pulau Ubin – evidence that our local seagrass meadows are still an attraction for roaming dugongs. The Chek Jawa wetlands in Pulau Ubin is your only realistic hope of seeing this rare beast – but don’t count on it!

 

Coming soon: The Wild Side – Singapore, plants and flowers

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