SINGAPORE: More can be done to prevent roadkill in the Mandai area, where an eco-tourism hub is being developed, wildlife experts told Channel NewsAsia.
A pregnant wild boar was killed in a traffic accident along Bukit Timah Expressway on Thursday (Jun 21), the fifth reported roadkill in the area since development on the project started last year. Last Sunday, a wild Sambar deer was killed along the same stretch of road.
The developer of the project, Mandai Park Development (MPD), said speed bumps were put in place along Mandai Lake Road in 2016. The process of installing hoardings started at the end of 2016 before development works started in the first quarter of 2017.
But wildlife experts said more can be done to prevent roadkill.
"They need to be far more efficient and urgent than they are doing now. At the area where a pangolin and leopard cat died, there are still no hoardings even till today," said veteran wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai.
The hoardings, which prevent animals from getting onto the roads and guides them to a safer crossing, are still being installed in phases up to this year, said wildlife experts.
Channel NewsAsia understands that the hoardings are added in phases as the project progresses.
When Channel NewsAsia visited the area, the hoardings were largely limited to the Mandai Lake Road area and not along Mandai Road, which flanks the northern region of the reserve.
"Due to forest clearing as part of the development, wildlife which inhabit these areas will be forced to move around and are at risk of getting on adjacent busy roads or highways where hoardings are not present," said Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society's (ACRES).
"More speed calming measures and complete barriers must be in the right places, not just with the development but the surrounding areas where the displaced animals could move to along the main roads to prevent animal crossings and roadkill," she added.
On slowing the traffic along Mandai Lake Road, Dr Lee Hui Mien, MPD's vice president of sustainable solutions, said that a series of speed reduction measures has been put in place.
The speed limit for most parts of the road has been reduced to 40kmh. This is further reduced to 20kmh at a stretch near the nature reserve that has been identified as a temporary crossing area for wildlife.
MPD said in January this year, an additional speed radar was installed and the number of speed humps and wildlife crossing signs increased. Road markings to indicate wildlife crossing areas were also added.
A rope bridge has also been installed along Mandai Lake Road to help arboreal animals such as squirrels and macaques move across safely, with another set currently underway, it added.
Dr Lee said that when MPD was conceptualising the bridge, they had expected the animals to begin using it only after three to six months.
"Because animals are habitual, it will take some time for them to get used to it. But surprisingly we were very heartened to know that after a week of erecting the bridge we do see macaques crossing," Dr Lee said.
She added that images captured by cameras indicate that the macaques using the bridge"seem to be enjoying themselves".
"We’ve seen them crossing the bridge, sitting on the side of the bridge looking down at traffic – we’ve even seen them mating on the bridge," Dr Lee added.
Drivers of vehicles such as taxis, private hire cars and buses that regularly ply the Mandai area have also been engaged to raise awareness on speed calming measures, said Dr Lee.
However, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's research associate Sivasothi N said that the hoardings and traffic calming plans have been up for "a very short time".
He noted that plans for the eco-tourism park were first announced in 2014 but work only started in 2017. "That is very soon for an entity unfamiliar with development next to protected forests and the entire process has been hasty. The mitigation I've observed is slow and inadequate," said Mr Sivasothi.
"The mitigations that are needed are not yet implemented," said the vice-chair of Nature Society's conservation committee, Mr Ho Hua Chew.
PLANNED ANIMAL OVERPASS SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUILT BEFORE CONSTRUCTION STARTED
Mr Ho was referring to a planned Eco-Link wildlife bridge to help animals living in the forested areas of Mandai cross roads without danger, similar to the existing Eco-Link@BKE crossing built between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Experts said that the bridge, which will only be ready by the end of 2019 ahead of other components of the project, could have helped prevent roadkill incidents.
Mr Subaraj, who provided consultancy on the Mandai project, said various local wildlife groups had submitted recommendations to mitigate its impact on the local fauna.
"None of the mitigation measures recommended, including wildlife crossings ... to proper hoardings, everything was not in place when the developer started developing the area which shouldn't be the case. It should all have been in place then you start the development," said Mr Subaraj.
"That's the normal procedure for anywhere where there is nature even more so when there is a nature reserve. That's really unfortunate," he added.
While the Eco-Link bridge is a "great solution" and can be used by most animals, Mr Subaraj added that installing more rope bridges will help arboreal animals that live in the rainforest tree canopy move across.
National University of Singapore's wildlife biologist Joanna Coleman said that the most effective strategy of mitigating wildlife affected by building works are overpasses.
"Signage is probably the most common and cheapest mitigation measure implemented worldwide," said Dr Joanna Coleman. But a recent study showed they are ineffective, the wildlife biologist at the National University of Singapore added.
"If drivers in Singapore are generally more cautious or more likely than drivers elsewhere to obey road signs, then perhaps signage could work better here than elsewhere," Dr Coleman added.
DANGEROUS NOT JUST FOR ANIMALS, BUT ALSO FOR HUMANS
"When a large mammal strays onto a road, there's always a chance that it will cause a collision, resulting in human injury or death," Dr Coleman said.
Three cars were involved in the accident with the pregnant wild boar. Last Sunday's incident where a wild Sambar deer had to be euthanised involved a taxi, motorcycle and a car as they tried to avoid the deer. The taxi driver suffered cuts and was taken to hospital.
In May, a Malaysian motorcyclist took the Land Transport Authority and National Parks Board to court for negligence after a wild boar roadkill accident.
Mr Vicknesh Morthy suffered serious head injuries resulting in permanent disability after crashing into the carcass of a wild boar that was left along the BKE, near Eco-Link@BKE.
Apart from Sambar deer and wild boars, the reserve is also home to pangolins, Banded Leaf Monkeys, Common Palm Civets and leopard cats.
"I think we will definitely see more encounters of this nature but what is scary is that ... if you're not very careful, it could lead to a fatality of a person on the roads. If a car hits a big Sambar deer at full pace, someone could get killed," Mr Subaraj said.
"We need more wildlife crossings. We need speeds to be slowed down on certain roads especially along Mandai Road and Upper Thomson Road. And we need to have better understanding among the public that you are moving adjacent to a nature area and there is always a possibility of wildlife being around so let's be a little bit considerate and alert," he added.