“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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.