Friday, April 8, 2011

Fencing off wildlife not the answer

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Apr 8, 2011

Fencing off wildlife not the answer

I REFER to the letter by Mr Frederick Ow last Thursday ("Protect NTU students from roaming wildlife"; March 31).

Mr Ow raised concerns about the risk of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students coming to harm as a result of encounters with wildlife from the nearby forest.

It is true that wild boar and venomous snakes may wander onto campus grounds and pose a threat to people. However, in most cases, encounters between people and wildlife are brief and usually result in the animal fleeing from humans.

A fence surrounding the entire NTU campus would not only be prohibitively expensive, but would also not serve its purpose for very long; wild boar, with their bulk and rooting habits, would soon be able to create gaps in the mesh, and snakes are able to scale most fences anyway.

In the meantime, other creatures such as pangolins and leopard cats (both of which are critically endangered species in Singapore) would find their access to habitats across the road suddenly cut off, isolating them in patches of forest which might be unable to sustain all their needs.

Instead of building fences to protect wildlife from people (and vice versa), it would be far better to create an environment where tolerance and co-existence are emphasised.

Instead of pandering to fear, a more desirable strategy would be to raise awareness on campus, such as having signboards or posters to inform people about the presence of these creatures, and dispelling misconceptions by distributing leaflets to staff and students, telling them what to do and what not to do should one encounter a wild animal.

To further minimise human-wildlife conflict, other key measures could include ensuring proper disposal of food waste, which will not only attract omnivorous scavengers, such as wild boar and monkeys, but also rats, which in turn might lead to more snakes on campus.

At the same time, it is essential to curb the unbridled enthusiasm of people who are so excited by wildlife sightings that they put themselves in harm's way. There would need to be a strong policy on preventing people from feeding the wildlife, which encourages wild animals to leave the forest and deliberately seek people out, with potentially dire consequences.

It will be impossible to completely prevent people from crossing paths with wildlife, and sharing the same places.

I believe the optimal solution would be to accept the presence of these creatures, maintain a respectful distance, and take necessary measures to reduce conflict. Instead of fearing them, let's appreciate the occasional fleeting glimpses and reminders that we are not the only species to call Singapore home.

Ivan Kwan