CNA documentary: Just how biodiverse are we? It’s in our Nature (Part 1)

Below are some excerpts of the Channel News Asia Insider wildlife documentary.


Singapore is at the southernmost tip of the Malayan peninsular, so it is a very important pit stop for migratory birds travelling from the northern hemisphere, especially birds of prey (hawks and eagles), to refuel before continuing to fly over the vast expanse of the sea towards Indonesia between August and March every year.

(That means it is vital for us to conserve our existing forests in order to ensure a sustainable population of birds of prey migrating through our island.)


In the last 200 years, we have lost almost a third of our native wildlife.

Examples of extinct wildlife include the Malayan tiger and the cream-coloured giant squirrel. The giant squirrel used to be common until the 1960s, and it was last seen in 1995 (supposedly after Bukit Timah expressway was built, separating Bukit Timah nature reserve from the Central nature reserve).

The main cause of wildlife extinction in Singapore is habitat loss due to land use change or deforestation and urbanisation, making it difficult for the wildlife to find food and living space.


More than 1,600 native species are on the brink of extinction, according to the Singapore Red Data Book, first published in 2008.

It was estimated that only 67 Raffles Banded Langur were left living in the wild.


As more lands are cleared, more wildlife venture into urban spaces, resulting in forest animals getting stranded in people’s homes or getting injured or killed by moving vehicles or cruel people or cats and dogs, as observed by ACRES.


According to a 2007 study, there were about 1,000 Sunda Colugos left in Singapore, hence every single one of them matters. Though they can do a single glide further than the length of a football field, they may get stranded when they fall onto the ground or get trapped by barb wires on fences.


Sunda pangolins are critically endangered, and every life matters. They have a habit of venturing out of forests to explore and may get themselves injured or killed in unfamiliar urban areas.

Singapore freshwater crabs are rare, critically endangered and endemic to Singapore, found in hill streams in forests in Bukit Timah nature reserve, Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak.


Narrator: What is at stake if this (Singapore freshwater crab) species vanishes from our hill streams?

Daniel Ng, Manager, Biodiversity (Terrestrial), NParks:

It plays a number of roles in the ecosystem. It will feed on leaf litter, as well as the animals that are present in the stream. It is also an opportunistic predator who will predate on small animals inside the stream. So, all these species are part of the ecosystem, or interdependent on each other. With the removal of one species, such as the Singapore freshwater crab, it may have an adverse impact on the stream ecosystem and potentially affect the entire stream ecosystem as well as its other inhabitants.

Narrator: So then, with the loss of one species, could the ecosystem collapse?

Daniel Ng: It’s possible.

Narrator: There is still so much that scientists don’t know, but if one tiny critter can potentially have a huge impact on our ecosystem, what about the most prolific group in the animal kingdom – the insects?


Delvinder Kaur, Junior animal care officer, Zoology, Wildlife Reserves Singapore:

Invertebrates are very unique. They play a part in almost every ecological process out there. We need them more than they need us. Insects are responsible for approximately 80% of the pollination out there. Pollination is needed for our crops, and that gives us food security.

Narrator: Without them, most plants can’t disperse their pollen, and butterflies are among some of the most important pollinators.

Most of the time, we tend to undermine (or underestimate?) the roles of insects in our ecosystem. But we have discovered approximately a million species. At the same time, scientists also predict there are so many more out there that we still have yet to discover. Having not discovered them, we don’t exactly understand the total impact of how much we are benefitting from them.


Phytoncides is a compound that protects plants from disease and bacteria, and inhaling them can boost our immunity and reduce stress.


Pangolins typically produce only one or two offspring every year, and they are notoriously hard to breed in captivity, so it is crucial to create the best chances for each male pangolin to sow their seeds in the wild.


Bernard Seah, Otter working group:

Our smooth-coated otters are a very urban and adaptive species, but not all animals that we find in Singapore are this adaptive. Singapore mainland doesn’t have ideal habitats , for example, for the Asian small-clawed otters to thrive – they need shallower waters, mangrove habitats, estuarine habitats, so it is important that we preserve some existing forests, mangrove areas.


My Feedback on the Survey on Wild Animals in Pasir Ris Estate

Aerial view of Sungei Api Api and Pasir Ris Park (8 April 2020)

The following is my feedback submitted via the survey form regarding wild animals in Pasir Ris Estate, Singapore.

The context of the wild boar attack on a woman in Sungei Api Api Park on 17 Nov 2020 must be established.

Firstly, the incident happened near Pasir Ris Park, which is being developed for housing and is also the natural habitat of the wild boars.

Secondly, the woman wasn’t carrying any foods, so it is highly unlikely that prior human feeding (if any) had caused it to become aggressive towards humans. The recent incident of the wild boar checking out a cyclist’s bicycle basket for food in Pulau Ubin also shows that wild boars are likely to be curious rather than aggressive when foods are made available in their presence.

Thirdly, wild boars seldom venture out of the forests or natural habitats unless there is some disturbance to their homes because they can easily find food in the forests. For example, the clearing of Lentor-Tagore forest for housing development since 2017 has resulted in a number of wild boars venturing out and crossing the roads nearby and becoming roadkill. 

Last but not least, both incidents of wild boar attacks in Punggol and Pasir Ris in 2018 and 2020 respectively took place in the areas where deforestation was taking place nearby. Nowhere in our history have wild boars become aggressive to the point of harming humans unless the wild boars feel fearful that their lives and/or their homes are being threatened. (See website here for more information)

As we look further back to 2012 when a wild boar ventured out from Lower Peirce Reservoir forest into Bishan Park, it is likely that there was some disturbance going on in the forest. Again, it is unlikely the wild boar was roaming into the park to look for food as there is plenty of food in the forest.

Hence, a multi-pronged approach to resolving human-wildlife conflicts may include:

  1. Addressing the root cause of human-wildlife conflict, which is deforestation resulting in destruction and encroachment of the natural habitats and causing wildlife to be homeless and wander into residential areas.
  2. Addressing the secondary cause of the conflict, which is educating the public to keep a respectful distance and not feed the wildlife when encountering them
  3. Seeking urgently alternative solutions to clearing forests for housing development without endangering our wildlife and their habitats any further, such as by redeveloping existing lands that are under-utilised or abandoned.

For more details, you may refer to my blog link.

What happens in Pasir Ris will have an effect on Tengah forest and Bukit Batok Hillside Park because we have wild boars there as well.

We are all interconnected in this complex ecosystem, just like we are all members of the same body.

When one part of the body suffers, so will the rest of the body, and vice versa.

Sungei Api Api and Pasir Ris Park on 8 December 2020

Help save our critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls and their natural habitats

As dead as a dodo? Not our bulbuls, please.

Have you heard of the idiom “as dead as a dodo”?

The dodo is an unusual bird that used to live only on the remote island of Mauritius.

It is also one of the most well-known examples of human-induced extinction.

When the sailors arrived in Mauritus in the 16th century, dodos had no natural enemies.

However, due to sheer human carelessness, the dodos became extinct by 1681.

Over here in Singapore, we are blessed to have the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls in our few remaining forests.

According to a research paper by Cambridge University Press (16 Nov 2020):

“The Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus is one of South-East Asia’s most threatened songbirds due to relentless demand for the regional cage-bird trade”

The last strongholds of these endangered songbirds include Batok Batok and Batok Gombak.

On 16 Nov 2020, Dr Chee, Naresh and the Young Democrat team and I were fortunate to hear the melodious sounds of a straw-headed bulbul during our survey at Bukit Batok Hillside Park area.

Alas, this bird wasn’t recorded during the 9-day wildlife survey conducted by the EIA team at Bukit Batok Hillside Park area in April 2018.

It is therefore paramount that we spare no effort in preserving the remaining natural habitats of this rare bird species, in order to maximise its chances of survival.

In view of how it has been poached to the brink of extinction, the critically endangered bird species could easily go the way of the dodo.

“the Straw-headed Bulbul had an original range across a number of countries. Now, due mostly to widespread poaching for the caged song-bird trade, its population is so drastically reduced elsewhere that Singapore has become of key importance to prevent its global extinction. Can Singaporeans rise to the challenge of preserving and increasing its numbers? Would the eloquent eyes of the last Tiger in Singapore, recorded in the well-known photo, or those of the unrecorded last Black Panther, speak less tragically if the bubbling song of the Straw-headed Bulbul were guaranteed to sing forever in their native land?”

(Nature Watch, Jul-Sep 2019 issue)

Let’s join our forces to save the entire Bukit Batok Hillside Park area and our native Straw-headed Bulbuls today.

Sign the petition here.