An inspiration from Down Under for Singapore to conserve its natural heritage

If I remember correctly, someone commented that I would care to write about the natural landscapes of another country even though I don’t live there.

I didn’t really think about that as we all live on Earth divided by invisible artificial man-made borders.

The Twelve Apostles in Victoria, Australia, might be thousands of kilometres away from Singapore.

But they have captured my heart as though they were a secret garden in my backyard (if I had one at the apartment block).

When I first self-published my book Nature Sketch: A Poem about the Twelve Apostles in Victoria, Australia, I requested Parks Victoria to write a foreword, and I was glad they agreed.

In return, I would donate one dollar to the conservation work of the Twelve Apostles through them for every copy of the book purchased.

Because these spectacular landforms have inspired me (and I believe many others too), I hope that they will continue to be conserved for posterity.

The ancient sea stacks, stumps and arches have immeasurable value in terms of education, ecotourism, natural and spiritual heritage, and so on.

The aborigines of the continent also have a deep lasting relationship with the region, where they have been living for thousands of years.

Now, imagine some foreigners visit Singapore and are impressed with our natural heritage, such as:

– Bukit Batok Hillside Park

– Clementi forest

– Bukit Brown forest

– Dover-Ulu Pandan forest

– Mandai-Sembawang forest

(all of which have been marked for future development)

And they are so inspired by the misty scenery, natural streams and melodious sounds of birds that they write books about our forests upon returning to their countries.

Wouldn’t our foreign friends be concerned about the condition of our natural heritage and beauty too?

Wouldn’t they like to know more about how the flora and fauna are interconnected in our complex ecosystem?

And wouldn’t they be curious to learn about the intriguing history of our rainforests and indigenous peoples who had lived here before the “modern founding” of Singapore 200 years ago?

Thus, it is sad that too often, we tend to take our own few remaining dense forests for granted.

We hardly appreciate the true jewel of our precious tropical rainforests and their biodiversity in our backyard, which are unlike the sterile rainforest in The Jewel at Changi Airport.

May I invite you to lend your voice to support the conservation of our endangered dense forests?

Click here to sign the petition.


Wild Boars in Singapore: How their roadkill and attacks on humans are linked to deforestation

Overview of wild boars in Singapore

According to NParks, “the wild boar is a native animal of Singapore”, hence it is neither an invasive nor introduced species.

Also, the wild boar “is the largest resident land mammal in Singapore and found in forest, scrubland and mangroves.” (Wild Singapore, 2016)

As a native resident, wild boars would have lived in Singapore and its offshore islands long before the British colonialists stepped onto its shores in 1819.

According to an article in Wild Singapore:

More than 95 percent of Singapore’s original 540 square kilometers (208 square miles) of tropical forest have been felled: first for agricultural crops such as black pepper, and later for urban development in the burgeoning city state.

The analysis that species that may have been lost include as many as 4,866 plants, 627 butterflies, 234 fish, 111 reptiles, and 91 mammals. Since 1923 alone, 61 of the 91 known forest-bird species have died out. As much as 73 percent of the island’s original biota (flora and fauna) has been extirpated.”

It shows the extensive damage we humans have been doing to our natural habitats and biodiversity.

With regard to wild boars in recent years, one website noted:

“In recent years, reports of boar sightings around the country have become increasingly common, with Punggol having the lion’s share. Wild boars thrive in the forested areas around Punggol, but they tend to wander into residential areas more and more frequently as their habitats are cleared for urban development.”

Imagine you are a native resident living in your natural habitat for many generations over hundreds of years.

Then, over the years, your habitat becomes smaller and smaller as an invading species have been encroaching your living space with their buildings and roads.

Your space to forage for food becomes limited, and soon even your resting place gets disturbed by construction works.

As a territorial creature, wouldn’t you be stressed and defensive when intruders approach your last refuge in the tiny fragment of forested area?

Lest anyone think the above scenario is just a figment of imagination, let’s study wild boar incidents in recent years.

How wild boar roadkill and attacks on humans are linked to deforestation

In 2016, development works began in Lentor (Tagore) forest despite calls from Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) and nature enthusiasts to preserve it.

The destruction of Lentor forest would inevitably have resulted in wild boars becoming displaced and wandering out of the forest onto roads.

On 21 Apr 2016, a wild boar crossed Seletar Expressway (SLE) and was killed by a motorcycle.

On 23 Apr 2017, a wild boar crossed Lentor Ave and was killed by a moving car.

On 29 Sep 2017, another wild boar crossed Lentor Ave and was hit by moving vehicles.

Similarly, a spate of animal roadkills, including a road accident involving a pregnant wild boar, along Mandai Road occurred in 2018.

According to Dr Ho Hua Chew from Nature Society (Singapore):

“Vegetation in Mandai is already fragmented. Coupled with construction work there, animals will venture out onto the roads in an attempt to reach another patch of forest.”

On 28 Aug 2018, a wild boar wandered from a nearby forest and injured a woman in Punggol. As noted by a news article:

“Mr Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife consultancy, said that many pockets of nature had been removed for housing development in recent years, causing wildlife to lose their habitats and wander around looking for food.”

On 17 Nov 2020, a wild boar charged at a woman walking along Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris.

As noted by a resident Mr Pillai:

“The western end of the park, bordering a thickly-vegetated area where sightings of wild boars are commonplace has been cordoned off for some development. At the same time, the parcel of forested land flanking Sungei Api Api is being cleared for BTO development.”

What we can do to avoid future conflicts with wild boars for everyone’s safety

Around the same time, it was reported that an inquisitive wild boar came to check out some food on a woman’s bicycle in Pulau Ubin, who wasn’t injured in the incident.

This episode disproves the assumption that wild boars become aggressive when food is made available by humans.

To be clear, I don’t encourage the feeding of wild boars in general (not referring to the Ubin incident which doesn’t show feeding).

However, as shown by the recent wild boar attacks, the wild boars tend to be aggressive when feeling stressed or cornered by human intruders in their fast-diminishing dwelling places due to deforestation.

We urgently need to find safer and greener alternatives to clearing our few remaining forests for development without causing further harm to our native wildlife (and ultimately to ourselves).

For example, Tengah forest is being cleared to make way for roads and buildings, but there are wild boars residing there.

A large tract of natural habitat has been removed from the western part of Tengah forest.
(10 Nov 2020)

Similarly, a wild boar was recorded in an EIA conducted at Bukit Batok Hillside Park, which is being considered for development.

Imagine if these wild boars will be stressed as their habitat gets increasingly disturbed.

We certainly do not want a repeat incident of wild boars attacking humans out of fear or desperation for their lives and their disappearing homes in future.

An alternative to forest removal has been suggested by NSS.

“Future sites, such as the Paya Lebar Airbase when it is relocated from 2030, could be used to make up for the shortfall, the NSS proposed.”

Moreover, a news report dated 25 Sep 2020 says Singapore’s population falls for the first time in ten years.

With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting everything this year and causing loss of income for many, it is likely that fewer people will buy new flats in the coming years.

Instead, they may prefer to rent rooms or flats, instead of or while waiting to buy new flats, in order to avoid or minimise the risk getting into debt from having to pay mortgage every year.

Thus, it is time for our authorities to stop any further deforestation and slow down housing construction.

At the same time, they need to focus more on redeveloping under-utilised lands such as golf courses and old/abandoned commercial/industrial buildings (which will benefit from a new lease of life).

As the HDB CEO Dr Cheong Koon Hean also acknowledged:

“As more developments use up land space, it is inevitable that future development would come from recycling what urban planners call brownfield sites. We will soon transit into a redevelopment mode where existing land and properties is`recycled’ for new use and new forms of developments. In fact, our leasehold land system is essential for us to achieve a virtual cycle of land recovery, continually rejuvenating our city and housing estates for future generations.”

(From “From Grid to Green: The Plans that Shape our City State“, 14 November 2019)

The hospitality industry should also consider restructuring their policies to accommodate long-term guests for our residents, if the accommodation providers want to stay in business in view of fewer tourists.

P.S. Do sign the petitions to save our endangered natural habitats in Bukit Batok Hillside Park here and Clementi Forest here.

A heartfelt semi-satirical letter to our future generations

Dear future generations,

This is why development is good for you.

You see, we listened to the people who derided us for criticising the authorities while living in the property built by them.

We were afraid of being rejected by society for telling them the consequences of environmental degradation which they didn’t want to hear.

We decided it is too much hard work to advocate for nature conservation when hardly anyone gave a damn about our environment and biodiversity.

After all, we all depend on the Matrix to survive because as they say, nothing is free in this country.

So we decided to sell our soul and accept our subjugation to the lords of the land where nothing really belongs to us.

The land has long been stolen from the indigenous peoples who were made homeless and stateless through colonial imperialism.

We had to pretend all is well, though every year, it gets a bit warmer, the floods get a bit more frequent and one more wildlife species goes extinct.

We had to keep up the pretense because it is considered folly to challenge the dominant narrative that development is good for the economy.

We traded the fertility of the land for property market, the purity of the air for industries, and the cleanliness of river water for our littering habits.

We prided ourselves for being superior to indigenous peoples who lived in “tree houses” in the “jungle”, but we couldn’t even farm our own lands, breathe our own air, or drink water from our own river without getting ill.

Just like strokes and heart attacks took decades of unhealthy eating to occur seemingly without warning, we are now reaping what we sowed.

We saw warning signs of warming temperatures, more frequent floods, more cases of heat strokes, dengue fever, mental health issues, suicides and zoonotic virus pandemic, but we continued to downplay them and give in to our self-destructive desires.

Maybe we really need to die out as a generation, so that you future generations can take over and start on a clean slate.

We are sorry that we have failed you, and we hope that you will learn from our mistakes and not fail us.

We also hope that you will not fail your own future generations, just like we did.

Seven ways Singapore can learn from indigenous societies to be more humane and responsible stewards of the environment

Proud and dignified, not primitive

Who are the real primitive people?

One dictionary defines “primitive” as living in basic, unpleasant, and uncomfortable conditions.

It is usually used in a derogatory or disapproving manner, especially in modern societies.

“Primitive” is sometimes used interchangeably with “uncivilised”, meaning cruel, heartless and barbaric.

That said, lately I noticed a disturbing trend in a Nature-based Facebook group (of all places).

When I shared a post to lament the loss of a mutilated tree and mention about the cold, clinical system in this country, someone commented:

“Go live in the jungle.”

In another instance, when a nature lover mourned the death of a civet cat, mentioning how it is a victim of “our development monopoly ignoring the beauty of green spaces”, someone responded sarcastically:

“Yes, let’s all get rid of all malls and HDB! Let’s all live in tree houses!”

Truth be told, I would delight in such ideas as I have longed to live in Nature since young, as I would love to enjoy the serenity and fresh air.

But it is the way these people talked about jungles and tree houses that is disturbing.

It is like they look down on the indigenous peoples who live in the forests, probably seeing them as backward, primitive and uncivilised.

If so, let’s do a quick comparison between people in indigenous societies and people in the city-state of Singapore in general.

We shall see who are the really primitive ones.

1. Indigenous society: NO DEBT because they live off the abundance of Nature without relying on a debt-based monetary system.

Singapore: Average Household Debt per Capita: S$57,637 (as of 31 Dec 2017).

2. Indigenous society: NO BOMBS because they don’t subscribe to mass destruction ideologies. For example, historically, Native American communities had methods for dealing with disputes. 

Singapore: Have fighter-bombers and artillery in military, though they are said to be mainly for self-defence.

3. Indigenous society: NO PRISONS because they choose the higher way of “:the resolution of disputes, the healing of wounds and the restoration of social harmony“.

Singapore: Have prisons (and even death penalty) for punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation, supposedly according to the severity of crimes.

4. Indigenous society: NO POVERTY because they live sustainably for thousands of years through sharing and cooperation. A study shows that “modern hunter-gatherer tribes operate on egalitarian basis, suggesting inequality was an aberration that came with the advent of agriculture”.

Singapore: “In 2012, Singapore city was ranked as the sixth most expensive city to live in the world—after cities including Tokyo, Sydney and Oslo. Despite these statistics, one-tenth of Singapore’s population is currently living in poverty. Today, the income inequalities have become more noticeable than ever.” (Source: Borgen Project)

5. Indigenous society: NO HOMELESS because they build their own homes in natural environments. One article noted that “the architecture of Aboriginal houses built prior to invasion depended on climate, natural environment, resources available, family size and particular needs of the Aboriginal nation of that area”.

Singapore: “About 1,000 people live on the streets of Singapore, according to the first study done here to measure the scale of homelessness.” (CNA, 2019)

6. Indigenous society: NO JUNK FOOD because they eat fresh, organic food provided by Mother Nature.

Singapore: “Experts say that fast-food chains do particularly well in Singapore because the healthy eating movement here is not as prevalent as compared to other countries such as the United States which is tackling high obesity rates.” (Today, 2019)

7. Indigenous society: NO POLLUTION because they don’t use motor vehicles or industries, and they are responsible stewards of the environment. A 2018 National Geographic article highlighted the fact that “comprising less than 5% of the world’s population, indigenous people protect 80% of global biodiversity”.

Singapore: By some measures, Singapore’s air quality is terrible – twice the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guideline limits, and worse than Manila’s, according to a 2017 report in the Guardian UK on global air pollution.

More than 7,700 cases of high-rise littering were reported between 2016 and last year to the National Environment Agency (NEA), as of 2019.

A new study from the National University of Singapore (NUS) found that Singapore’s average outdoor sound level throughout the day is 69.4 decibels, which is equivalent to the noise made by a vacuum cleaner. (ST, 2017)

The main sources of water pollution in Singapore are industrial effluent and domestic wastewater. Industrial effluent contains chemical and organic pollutants.

Domestic wastewater contains mainly organic pollutants, both suspended and dissolved solids. (Source: NEA)

Depiction of pollution and environmental degradation in Sustainability Gallery in Singapore

So, it is clear which society is really primitive.

To be sure, this post is not meant to put Singapore down, but rather an attempt to put things into perspective through the objective lens of reality.

If we are honest, we must own up to our shortcomings and strive to be better, more humane and civilised in every sense of the word.

P.S. Not all tribes in indigenous societies share the same values and practices, and I have included links to relevant examples of role models where possible. None of the indigenous societies is perfect, but their compassionate, egalitarian and sustainable practices embody timeless ancient wisdom for us to learn from.

Speaking up for Nature who has no human voice

Deforestation in Tengah forest

With a loss of at least 90% of our tropical rainforests and up to 73% of our plant species and animal species in the last 200 years, it is heartening at least to see a diversity of voices supporting our disappearing forests.

“Botanist Karl Png, the 23-year-old co-founder of the Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity, added that an increasing number of younger Singaporeans are concerned with the state of the environment because it affects their future.

“I think it’s selfish that leaders of today are saying, ‘Young people are great, they will solve the climate change crisis’ and then don’t do anything about it.

“Ultimately, they won’t face the consequences (of inaction)… but future generations will.”

What Singapore needs, said the environmentalists, is a conversation about what it wants for its future — do we value growth and convenience that comes with development over the intangible benefits of retaining what little green spaces are left?

Wildlife activist Vilma D’Rozario believes that the One Million Trees project would be better served by focusing on joining up forest fragments.

“But you have to leave patches of green along the way, otherwise what are you linking?” said the 63-year-old member of the Singapore Wildcat Action Group.”

From “Nature enthusiasts launch petitions to save Bukit Batok Hillside Park and Clementi forest“)

We have perhaps reached a crucial cross-road where we need to choose between:

🔥 further deforestation for short-term gratification with eventual self-destruction


🌳 recycling of existing lands for long-term survival with sustainable development.

My hope is to see more of our voices advocating nature conservation, not only for the sake of ourselves and our future generations, but also our voiceless and vulnerable flora and fauna.

Even if we replant 1 million trees in parks and gardens and along roadsides to replace 1 million trees lost through deforestation, we cannot replace forest biodiversity (plants and animals) that will have been lost. It also takes a forest decades, or more likely centuries, to grow and recover to become a healthy ecosystem.

(Photos show the desecration and destruction of our natural habitat of Tengah forest, Singapore, dated 10 Nov 2020)

Bukit Batok West ridge with lush tropical grassland, scrubland and secondary rainforest

Sometimes, we don’t have to travel too far to enjoy Nature in relative solitude.

In Bukit Batok West, a couple of natural ridges stand close to newly constructed BTO flats.

One ridge has about 70% forest and 30% grass/scrubland (as shown in the photos).

The other ridge is almost covered with secondary rainforest (aka Bukit Batok Hillside Park area).

Unlike their more well-known neighbours (Little Guilin and Bukit Batok Nature Park), these two forested areas hardly have human presence.

It is probably because of the dense plant growth and steep slopes that circle round much of their perimeter.

Nevertheless, it is becoming rare to see wild nature scenery in an increasingly urbanised Singapore.

It is better to cherish these nature places before they disappear, especially since they are marked for development according to URA 2019 concept plan.

In the meantime, I am recording their tranquil beauty to advocate for the conservation of the natural habitats and our biodiversity.

No doubt the vegetation has been modified by humans to some extent, mainly due to our past history regarding rubber plantation.

But the grassland, scrubland and rainforest are recovering and taking on some resemblance of natural landscapes.

I believe they are worth conserving rather than having the hillslopes cruelly dug and the natural vegetation replaced with concrete buildings and manicured gardens.

If that were to happen, not only we will lose our biodiversity, we will also have to bear the consequences of environmental degradation, such as:

  • warmer microclimate
  • higher risk of flash flood due to increased surface runoff over impermeable ground
  • more insect pests such as cockroaches and dengue-carrying mosquitoes invading our residential areas.

As one article noted:

“Plant biodiversity can limit herbivore pest outbreaks.

By contrast, pest control that relies heavily on insecticides can lead to detrimental rebounds of herbivore pests as pesticide application may destabilize the communities of natural enemies.

“Our experiments show that conserving plant diversity provides multiple benefits for controlling herbivore pests”

(from “More plant diversity, less pesticide“)

Christmas candle stick bush

Deforestation and flash floods: How they are all connected

Deforestation in Bidadari and Lorong Ah Soo may have contributed to the flash floods in the surroundings during an intense storm on 2 November 2020.

It is believed that due to climate change, more extreme weather changes can be expected.

Yesterday, flash floods occurred in several places in Singapore during such a heavy downpour.

Although floods aren’t new occurrences in low-lying countries like Singapore, they may be exacerbated by ongoing deforestation.

According to TODAY’s article dated 2 Nov 2020:

“In photos shared on social media, murky brown water can be seen inundating parts of a road along Hougang Ave 3 near the Singapore Girls’ Home.


In a Facebook post at around 3.15pm, PUB said that flash floods had occurred along Upper Paya Lebar Road, Lorong Gambir near Bartley as well as Mount Vernon Road.”

Murky water flooding Hougang Avenue 3 on 2 Nov 2020 (Photo by SG Road Vigilante Facebook Group)

It is interesting to note that these places are also the locations where deforestation is taking place.

Deforestation is underway in Bidadari (around 90 ha) to build a new housing estate.

Deforestation for housing development in Bidadari (Photo taken on 2 Jan 2020)

Likewise, deforestation is taking place south of Lorong Ah Soo.

Is it any wonder why flash foods are happening all of a sudden during a heavy downpour in the vicinity?

It is a clear sign that we have reached a point we can no longer ignore the negative consequences of destroying our few remaining dense forests in Singapore to our own detriment.

But when concerned citizens and nature lovers decry the ongoing deforestation, they get labelled as “negative” and “complaining”.

Have any of us remembered our Geography lessons in school where we learn that replacing the porous soil of the forest with impermeable concrete and asphalt surfaces will result in greater surface runoff?

How deforestation contributes to flooding (Source:

It isn’t sufficient to simply apply superficial band-aid solutions by building artificial rain gardens and so on.

We need deep ecological solutions to deal with the root cause of the problem of flash floods, increased urban heat island effect and so on.

We need to seriously consider redeveloping brownfield sites such as golf courses and other underutlitised or unused existing built-up lands, instead of sacrificing our few remaining dense forests such as Bukit Batok Hillside Park, Clementi Forest, and so on.

To sign the petition to conserve Bukit Batok Hillside Park, click here.

To sign the petition to conserve Clementi Forest, click here.

ST Forum: Restrict use of petrol-powered blowers, mowers

I appreciate the inclusion of the ST file photo to my letter (30 October 2020), which illustrates aptly the detrimental noise of grass cutting in residential areas.

“The sound of petrol-powered leaf blowers and mowers can be heard clearly from as high as the eighth storey of a residential building.

With more people working from home these days, such noise affects concentration and adds stress, which is detrimental to mental health.

Already, a survey found that 61 per cent of those working from home reported feeling stressed, compared with 53 per cent of front-liners (More working from home feel stressed than those on Covid-19 front line, Aug 20).

These machines also harm our flora and fauna. For example, the leaf blower pollutes the air, stirs up lots of allergens and dust, and harms plants, micro-organisms and pollinators.

Similarly, the mower harms benign insects such as grasshoppers, and natural predators of mosquitoes such as frogs.

I urge the authorities to consider clean and harmless alternatives such as brooms and rakes for sweeping leaves, and restrict grass-cutting activities to only certain areas outside parks and housing estates.”

For an audio illustration of the jarring noise of a petrol-powered leaf blower, please view the video below.