Wild Singapore

The other day I was walking to the local coffee shop about 7:30 AM, which has become my routine since lockdowns ended but I amd still working for home, just to get out of the house before the full day of meeting in front of the camera starts. As I walked along the Park Connector (Singapore’s name for it’s extensive, and growing, network of walking/biking paths) that parallels the Sungai Simpang Kiri drainage canal I was lucky enough to see a family of otters playing and hunting fish in the canal:

Otters playing in the Sungai Simpang Kiri drainage canal, between Canberra Drive and Yishun Avenue 2

My older daughter said she saw a single otter here a few months ago; this time I have seen any, and a whole family of them.

Otters have been an increasingly common sight in Singapore over the past decade. Based on several articles online I understand that otters went “extinct” in Singapore in the early 1970’s driven out by pollution and urbanization. Otters were once again spotted in Singapore in 1998 but became a big deal in 2014 when a family moved in to the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio area. Today there are some 10 families living around Singapore, many in densely populated areas and even downtown amid the skyscrapers. Singapore’s policy of greening the city, to achieve Lee Quan Yew’s vision of a “city in a garden” is, apparently, working.

There is a lot of green in Singapore, many streets are lined with trees and bushes and though these are manicured they do provide a home for many small animals. If you keep your eyes open you can spot changing lizards among the flowers. The drainage canal and the green around it is where I see the most wildlife when I’m on my way for a cuppa or to the train stop or out for a walk to get some exercise.

Over the years I have seen a lot of wildlife along the canal. There is a family of parakeets that I see some mornings, a big kingfisher, and lots of other long necked fishing birds hunt in the canal. I’ve even seen an owl at night sitting on the railing by the canal. On several occasions I have seen a large monitor lizard swimming in the canal or walking in the grass along the side of the canal opposite the Park Connector. I once saw a horseshoe crab in the canal.

When I walk at night further along the Park Connector there is a small open field that is filled with the chorus of crocking frogs and buzzing cicadas. So loud you can hear them over the nearby traffic:

It’s one of the benefits of living in Singapore, despite it being one of the most densely packed places on earth and a modern city (or maybe because it’s “modern”) there is a lot of green. There is significant money put into planting and maintaining green spaces. That means they are all groomed spaces, plant trimming along the roads is a major cause of traffic jams on a weekly basis. A few years ago there was a factoid that Singapore spent over $50 million on maintaining the trees and other pants along the roads every year, almost a million dollars a week. But it does make for a much more pleasant city.

Supporting wildlife does occasionally lead to some conflict though. The otters do get some negative press as they have grown to be a larger presence. Also a woman was gored by a wild boar a few years ago in the same park that the otters first became famous in. The boar most likely wandered into the park from the larger central catchment area which is mostly unmanaged jungle in the heart of the island. I’ve only ever seen a boar on Pulau Ubin, one of the small, mostly wild islands around the main island of Singapore.

The central catchment is also famous for it’s long tailed or crab eating macaques. I’ve taken a few photos [] of them.

During the COVID19 lockdowns the people who do this work, foreign workers from China, Thailand and South Asia mostly, were locked away in their dormitories and all work stopped. The suffering of these migrants is another story, but… as far as the green spaces and the wildlife they support the months of no maintenance was a boom time. Plants that are normally trimmed or mowed down every month were left to flourish on their own. In some places along the Park Connectors near my house the foliage grew to such a height that it formed a wall on both sides. grasses and bushes grew over my head, more than 2 meters tall.

Insects and birds took full advantage of the growth. Butterflies and bees became a much more common site. The smell of booming flowers was heavy along many paths. Swarms of caterpillars and millipedes covered the sidewalks in the late summer of 2020; crunching under foot if you were not paying attention.

When the workers did return it was a shock to walk down the Park Connectors again. I had become used to the wall of green that separated me from the roads, blocking more of the light and sound. When the pants were cut, from two meters down to half a meter it was jarring.

Today the plants are cut back regularly once again in most places, but the government seems to have decided to leave some of the medians along the road and less populace areas to grow, allowing the small grasses and wild flowers to boom and support the bees and butterflies which in turn support the birds.

I wish the government would find some way to remove some of the concrete that lines all the waterways in Singapore. Since seemingly every waterway is a concrete lined canal there are no fireflies in Singapore. I heard that 50 years ago they were a regular part of the hot humid nights and I would love to see them again.

Overall Singapore has done a good job. It’s greener than most any city I have ever been to. And even if on going construction leads to many large trees along the roads being cut down there is a concerted effort to provide open and green spaces, and not just in parks, but along the roads and smaller plots of government land. Being able to see green plants and wildlife every day make life in the city much more pleasant.

Featured image includes screenshot of Singapore from [], a photo of the downtown Singapore showing the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay from Adobe Stock and various icons from Adobe.