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The Climate Conversations: Look beyond fencing and trapping animals to prevent human-wildlife conflict, say experts

While culling, trapping and fencing are reliable strategies to prevent conflict between human and wildlife, experts CNA spoke with say there are lessons Singapore can learn from other countries. They shared some ideas with host Julie Yoo on The Climate Conversations podcast. 

SINGAPORE: Wild boar sightings in urban areas have become more common in recent years, which is why Singapore should consider more ways to manage human and wildlife conflict, said the co-chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES)

While wild boars are shy animals, they can quickly become dangerous when they are cornered or threatened, said Ms Anbarasi Boopal.

“A 100kg animal charging at someone is no joke. That's when things can go wrong,” added the wildlife rescuer.

In May and June this year, two residents in Bukit Panjang were injured in separate wild boar attacks.

In response, National Parks Board (NParks) said it will be installing more fences and cattle grids in Zhenghua Nature Park to prevent wild boars from entering residential areas. 

These are in addition to existing exclusion fencing and culling measures. Around 50 boars trapped in the park have been culled since 2019.

But while culling, trapping and fencing are reliable strategies to ensure public safety, Ms Boopal believes these methods do not address the root causes of human-wildlife conflict.


For starters, wild boars have access to human food, as their habitats border residential estates. This means they will continue to breed, driving up their population numbers. 

"I think we are at a stage where we can safely say that we have to manage the wild boar population, but in a more humane way and a more pre-emptive way,” said Ms Boopal.

She suggests that fertility control measures like sterilisation may be more effective and even ethical to control the population.

“We have done it with the stray dogs,” said Ms Boopal. 

“We are hoping that Singapore would follow other countries (that have adopted fertility control measures to manage the number of wildlife) just so that we treat the animals in our community in a more humane way,” she added.

But fundamentally, Ms Boopal, who has been in the wildlife rescue scene for 18 years, believes Singapore should also relook human behaviour and urban planning solutions when it comes to managing these conflicts in the long term.


“In Singapore, one of the biggest threats that biodiversity faces is the fragmentation of habitats where they lose the connectivity,” said Ms Boopal. 

With nature areas broken up, wild boars risk crossing man-made barriers like roads and HDB blocks to move from one green pocket to another, Ms Boopal explained. “We have to provide safe corridors for wildlife to use,” she said. 

But while green bridges do provide animals with a safe passageway to travel from one habitat to another, keeping Singapore’s forests intact is still the better choice, said primatologist Dr Andie Ang, who spoke in another episode of The Climate Conversations podcast. 

“It'd be good if we can retain existing forests … (rather than) coming in to build something to reconnect (habitats),” said Dr Ang. 

While Dr Ang, who is the president of the Jane Goodall Institute in Singapore, acknowledged that the country has development needs and cannot stop clearing forests entirely, she believes it could be done in a more “structured way”.

“More plans (should have) mitigations such that we can minimise impacts to wildlife and (the) environment as much as possible.” said Dr Ang. 

As Singapore inches closer to fulfilling its vision of being a city in nature, wildlife sightings in the city will become more common.

“We are in this unique place where we want to be a city in nature, but it comes with these (public safety) risks as well,” said ACRES co-CEO Ms Boopal. 

Echoing her views, Dr Ang emphasised that “we want to be close to nature, whether it is the clean air or just the calming effect of nature, but people might not understand that nature contains different aspects. It is not just the beautiful butterflies or the chirping birds”.

“There could be chickens, there could be crows, wild pigs and snakes as well. Some people might be selective about the kind of nature that they want. But if we are selective, then the ecosystem will not be intact and thrive,” said Dr Ang.
Food waste that is left in the open is another problem. It will inevitably draw these animals into residential estates.

“We have noticed pigs who come to the void decks because they are attracted to the food waste that's left by people. So, it also boils down a lot to the human behaviour and the etiquette that we unknowingly practise or not practise,” Ms Boopal said.

Compared to food wild animals can find in the forest, human food has higher calorie and energy content, explained Dr Ang. 

“If (wildlife like monkeys) were to take those food items, they would get their calorie intake for the day in just a short amount of time. So, if we were to leave food out there unattended or trash bins that are not closed properly, then the animals would stay,” said Dr Ang.

One practical solution is to have what Ms Boopal called “wildlife-proof” bins – and this would work for all animals, including monkeys.

Such garbage bins may come with metal clips to keep doors securely closed. These bins have been used on campsites and in parks in the United States, where bears have been found roaming near dumpsters.


But even as government agencies and wildlife rescuers look at new measures to curb wild boar or monkey attacks, everyone has a responsibility to educate themselves on how these animals live, said Dr Ang.

“If we are not equipped with the knowledge to know how to interact or not interact with wildlife, that's when we might inevitably or accidentally attract them into urban areas or our homes,” she added.

And even though news reports often focus on wildlife attacks, Dr Ang stressed that the majority of these encounters are peaceful. 

“News articles might say: Monkey attack, pig attack, otter attack. But news articles usually would be reporting incidents or accidents.”

“If a monkey is doing its own monkey business ... it might not come up as the news.”

There are three golden rules to bear in mind when you encounter wildlife, said Ms Boopal. 

"Appreciate them from a distance. We don't want people to be phobic so we use the word appreciate ... (Keeping a) distance can mean several metres for some animals like otters and if they have babies or young, increase the distance because just like you and I know, we have to defend our family or children. They will be extra protective when they have young around them.”

“Number two is to not feed. So a lot of people think feeding them is intentionally feeding but also we have to remember the food waste that we generate. So we have to make sure waste is properly binned.”

“And number three is no flash photography ... it can really trigger a defensive response from the animals as well.”

The Climate Conversations is a podcast discussing sustainability and climate issues. It is available on all major podcast platforms.  
Source: CNA/jq(ta)


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