Concerns over potential risks of underground construction impacts on wildlife in central nature reserve

The following is my unpublished letter sent to Straits Times Forum.

Dear ST Forum,

I read with concern about the potential risks of underground MRT tunnel construction impacts on wildlife in the central nature reserve, as reported in the Straits Times on 9 September 2019.

Despite the fact that EIA was carried out and mitigation measures were planned to reduce the construction impacts, we cannot fully ascertain the full extent of the impacts on the wellbeing of our vulnerable native wildlife species, such as pangolin, mousedeer, civet cat and so on.

It is a fact that animals in the wild are far more sensitive than humans to subtle environmental

changes and habitat disturbances.

For example, it is reported in Channel News Asia on 2 October 2019 that “Thailand was hit by drought this year and the elephants may have been looking for new sources of drinking water, but it is also possible they were trying to avoid contact with humans.”

As a result of disturbances around Khao Yao national park, the elephants had strayed near the dangerous waterfall and ended up falling over the cliff, and 11 of them died.

According to an article, studies have conclusively shown that noise and vibration can adversely affect breeding in laboratory mice. Continuous exposure to vibrations can impose fatigue and sleep deficiencies. Random vibrations occurrences have been known to invoke panic in mice whereby they cannibalize their pups when low frequency vibrations are suddenly perceived coming from under their bedding possibly sensing an intruder is approaching.

Another article noted that “In February 1975 hibernating snakes abandoned their hideouts in the north-eastern city of Haicheng. The city was evacuated and February 4, the region was hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake.”

Therefore, I urge the authorities to reconsider the construction of the direct MRT line underneath the central nature reserve. We cannot risk harming the wellbeing of our wildlife residents. The construction works would invariably cause habitat disturbances, and the vibrations caused by the construction deep underground can resemble seismic activity, which can profound impact their lives in ways beyond our understanding. Not only their breeding and other survival behaviours may be adversely affected, but also they may be compelled to flee from the forests and become displaced, homeless or even end up as roadkill.

Finally, NParks signboard explicitly states that we are only guests in our vulnerable nature reserve, which should be left undisturbed, so that we and our future generations can continue to enjoy them. Surely it would be a moral and criminal offence for us to do any kind of major construction works in the nature reserve itself, whether in the air above, on land or below the land.

Spotted at night in Singapore: Colugo or Malayan Flying Lemur

Colobus or Colugo?
 
If someone were to ask me about these two animals ten years ago,
I would say I have heard of the Colobus but not the Colugo.
 
Why is that so?
 
Because I used to read Gerald Durrell’s books on his fascinating wildlife experiences during my teenage years.
 
One of his books is titled “Catch me a Colobus”.
 
Now what is a Colobus?
 
I can’t really remember offhand, except that it must be living somewhere in Africa or South America, but certainly not in Singapore.
 
But if anyone had told me back then that the Colugo lives in Singapore, I would have batted an eyelid.
 
Or many eyelids in fact, for I hadn’t heard of Colugos in my entire life….
 
Until several years ago when I signed up for a free nature walk in Bukit Batok nature park organised by NParks.
 
It was on that fateful day when my volunteer guide Kwa Kee Lang suddenly stopped my group in our tracks in the forest.
 
He pointed towards a tree and told us that a Colugo was on that tree trunk.
 
That was my first acquaintance with an animal I never knew exists on Planet Earth, not to mention in Singapore.
 
I learnt that it is also called the Malayan Flying Lemur.
 
A few nights ago, I encountered this shy nocturnal creature again.
 
It was hanging on a tree in front of my block while I was making my way towards the nature park.
 
From the corner of my eye, I saw its dark shape that resembles a large batlike entity.
 
It is perhaps not unlike some fictional character from a Batman movie.
 
But it is as real as it could get, for I could photograph and record it on video.
 
Shortly after I took the video, it glided away across the road back into the forest…
 
To safety and an unknown abyss whence it came.
 
But one thing occurred to me before it vanished into the darkness.
 
When it was soaring across the road, it flew low enough to be struck by a passing double decker bus.
 
It is fortunate that the road traffic wasn’t really busy at that time.
 
It might have easily ended up as yet another statistic of animal roadkill.
 
That colugo is a picture of our rare and vulnerable wildlife residents that are seldom seen or heard in Singapore.
 
Meanwhile, our trees are routinely being cut down all around the island in the name of development and “progress”.
 
Bukit Batok nature park is one of the very few sanctuaries left for them to take refuge and survive.