My feedback to NParks et al regarding the culling of the wild boar captured in Yishun in March 2022

Attn: Wildlife conservation department et al

Dear Dr Yap Him Hoo, I refer to the latest news “Wild boar that injured woman in Yishun caught, ‘euthanised humanely'” (Straits Times, 21 March 2022) about the euthanasia of a wild boar captured by NParks in Yishun. I understand that the recent wild boar incident in Khatib Central resulting in passers-by getting injured might have caused apprehension among some members of the public about their safety. However, putting to death a wild boar that had wandered from its natural habitat and had not intended to hurt anyone due to its disorientation in an unfamiliar urban area is not really necessary or justifiable.

Some commenters on social media have mentioned that relocation of the wild boar to another patch of forest (where it would be safer from habitat fragmentation and human disturbance) might have been more humane and appropriate. While I agree that relocation would be a better solution, we also need to address the increasing cases of human-wildlife conflicts, especially in the past decade or so, at a deeper level in order to deal with the root causes of the issue effectively.

Unprovoked attacks of wild boars on humans that result in serious injuries were unprecedented before the Hillview Avenue and Windsor nature park fringe incidents in 2017, the Punggol incidents in 2018 and 2021 and the Pasir Ris incident in 2020, so we need to ask ourselves why they have been happening with increasing frequency since then.

As noted in a news article in 2021:

“Dr Ang from Jane Goodall Institute said that whether similar incidents of wild boars entering urban areas would occur in future depends on several factors.

These include whether there is sufficient habitat for wildlife, the presence of island-wide connectivity for animals to move between habitats without venturing into urban spaces and educating the general public on dealing with wildlife encounters.”

For example, on hindsight, if Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Monitoring & Management Planning (EMMP) had been conducted in Punggol forest and Pasir Ris park before any housing development took place, there might have been adequate mitigation measures to prevent substantial loss of the habitats and ensure ecological connectivity, so that the wild boars would not be displaced and would be much less likely to end up wandering into residential areas and feeling afraid, disoriented and defensive as a result of habitat loss.

Similarly, although the wild boar might have escaped into Yishun Park after the recent Khatib Central incident, it is possible that it might have initially been displaced or disturbed by deforestation going on nearby at Sembawang Woods (due to construction of the North-South Corridor) or around Lorong Chencharu and Ground-Up Initiative area (due to recent tree cutting for development works).

Deforestation at Sembawang Woods in December 2021

In my hiking experience in the forests in Singapore mainland and Pulau Ubin over the decades, I have never seen any wild boar becoming violent because they are usually relaxed in their serene natural habitat, ambling peacefully far away from the noise of motor traffic and construction works.

As rightly noted in NParks website, wild boars usually only become aggressive if they are cornered or feel threatened, or if the mother is protective of her babies when someone provokes them.

During my walks around Jurong Road area next to the biodiverse Tengah forest where construction works were going on last year, I witnessed on several occasions a wild boar moving quickly past in front of me at a distance as if it was feeling nervous or fearful.

It is likely that the wild boars in Tengah forest have been stressed by the noisy construction and big trucks roaring up and down the tracks through the forest regularly ever since deforestation and construction began around 2017.

Already, a wild boar was found injured along Kranji Expressway (KJE) after emerging from the forest and getting knocked down by a vehicle about a month ago, and the photos in the news media suggest that the accident might have taken place near Tengah forest opposite Home Team Academy at Old Choa Chu Kang road.

On 24 January 2019, another wild boar was knocked down by a lorry near Brickland Road and Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 and had to be euthanised, as reported in the news.

It is likely that the wild boar might have wandered as a result of being displaced from Tengah forest, which was being cleared for Build To Order (BTO) housing development at that time.

Contrary to popular thinking, wild boars are not necessarily harmful to the environment. As noted in an academic article from Nanyang Technological University (NTU):

“Boars could damage vegetation, but on the other hand, their soil diggings can also create a patchwork of soil microhabitats to allow other plants and smaller organisms to thrive which, in turn, promotes biodiversity. A recent study in Malaysia showed that wild boars can promote plant diversity by eating smaller plants of the dominant tree species, giving less dominant plant species a better chance.”

Hence, may I urge NParks and other relevant agencies, such as Housing & Development Board (HDB), Land Transport Authority (LTA), Public Utilities Board (PUB) and respective town councils, as well as the respective Members of Parliament (MPs), to work together to deal with the root causes holistically, in order to prevent such animal roadkills and human-wildlife conflicts from happening in future, both for our safety and the wild boars’ safety?

In the case of housing development, for example, even if there is a strong demand for public housing, why can’t we prioritise redevelopment of brownfield sites or previously developed lands instead of destroying greenfield sites or secondary forests, especially in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss and mental health crisis?

As stated in a news article in 2021:

“In the past, we could build new homes on swathes of undeveloped open land. Now, after 55 years of building and development, there are far fewer of these, and it has become more challenging to balance competing uses for land.

In order to continue providing good homes for Singaporeans, we will have to recycle previously developed land.”

Otherwise, it will probably be a matter of time before we see similar incidents of human-wildlife conflicts in which both passers-by and displaced animals end up paying the price of relentless development and habitat fragmentation in other places, such as Tengah, where more than 30% of the forest has already been removed for housing development and another 30-40% or so of the forest may be cleared in the next phase over the next few years, if insufficient measures are taken to ensure the long-term survival and safety of both wildlife and human beings.

(Even if 140 ha of Tengah forest has been set aside for green spaces, it is uncertain if they refer to dense forests or open wooded parks, and it constitutes only 20% of the total area, which I am concerned may not be enough, in view of the relatively narrow designated nature way without much buffer space. As proposed in the petition to preserve 30-50% of Tengah forest to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency, we need to “preserve at least 30 to 50 percent of Tengah forest’s original 700-ha size (or 210 to 350 ha) for purifying the air, cleaning the soil, removing pollutants, cooling the urban heat island effect, supporting biodiversity, preventing/mitigating risk of floods, zoonotic viruses and dengue diseases (as well as roadkills and human-wildlife conflicts), reducing electricity usage for air-conditioning, enhancing our physical and mental health etc, thereby potentially saving billions of dollars of public funds and personal/household expenses, in terms of healthcare, socioeconomic and environmental costs.”)

Thank you all for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Jimmy Tan San Tek

We are all interconnected, and we will do well by respecting the right of each creature to co-exist with us as part of the biodiversity family. (Source: An environmentalist in LinkedIn)