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Nature in Singapore

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Author: Jocelyne Sze

It’s the official opening of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore tomorrow (18 April 2015)! The first and only natural history museum in Singapore, I’m gutted I won’t be around/be able to visit till many months later, but I’m still getting quite excited even from 10,808km (according to Google) away. Check out the LKCNHM blog and the LKCNHM Toddycats! museum volunteer blog for updates. I’m super keen to see what it’s gonna be like, I definitely think natural history museums are the best kinds of museums cos they bring together (almost) everything I love – evolution, diversity of life, palaeontology, conservation, research, education, and outreach (kids!). Can’t wait to get back and check it out (:

The new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Image taken from LKCNHM website.

I attended a symposium by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) yesterday on the science/policy interface, and it was really interesting and enriching. As far removed from fieldwork (and everything fun) as policy is, it has very far-reaching implications and impact, making it a very important tool in the work of conservationists. Science seems a big part of UK policy-making, with a Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology that “is Parliament’s in-house source of independent, balanced and accessible analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology” and aims to “help parliamentarians examine science and technology issues effectively”. There are Parliamentary Select Committees where scientists can provide their expert input on certain issues, and there are Chief Scientific Advisors in every governmental department. It doesn’t mean that their policies are all infallible and the best, for sure, but at least for the most part they strive for scientific-grounding. (I may/may not blog on the actual science in policy stuff, depending on exam revision progress and time, though it does probably count as some form of revision.) A point that kept cropping up in the varied presentations was the need for public buy-in, the the policies needed to reflect societal values (which is why I think (science and nature) education is still fundamentally the most important).

Singapore, in contrast, probably has some way to go before we achieve this level of scientific grounding/public scrutiny in policy-making. Perhaps mainly because by-and-large, in the past, policies were made by the authorities who didn’t think that the public really knew enough to make meaningful decisions that would affect the country’s future though increasingly, citizens are becoming more well-informed and able to participate meaningfully (Leong, K.H. 2000. Citizen Participation and Policy Making in Singapore: Conditions and Predicaments. Asian Survey 40(3):436-455). Hopefully, as Leong concluded, there can be greater citizen participation and public scrutiny so that there is greater public acceptance of policies. I do vaguely recall of platforms for people to contribute their opinions; I might have participated in some of them, can’t remember particularly well now.

There probably is greater citizen participation now. Recently, an article drawing a causational link between the fall in complaints about long-tailed macaques being a nuisance and the culling of a third of their numbers drew criticism from individuals (Simplistic to credit culling with fall in complaints – Amanda Tan, primate researcher) and NGOs (Re-evaluate reasons for culling – Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)). A bit of background: people, mainly residents who live in estates next to our nature reserves, complain about long-tailed macaques and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) (the government agency in charge of dealing with these issues) has been culling the macaque population (their last resort apparently, though their methods are not really open to public scrutiny either) since 2013 (at least that’s when intensive culling started). The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) commissioned a survey which revealed a lack of public support for culling (only 13% of the 600 people surveyed supported culling). There hasn’t really been research done so far on which method of dealing with the macaques has been most effective and ‘solves’ the root of the problem, so really, where’s the science behind our policies :/ Though at least ‘more research is needed’ is acknowledged.

We do have a long way to go in the policy area of things, but I’m really heartened and encouraged by how much we’ve progressed in the public outreach and education side at least. An animation of one of the children’s books on local biodiversity (produced by students from the Raffles Institution Ecological Literacy Programme) was recently released (made by Mock Yuan Ning, Tracy Koh and Miranda Song), and I think it’s pretty amazing. It features our local flora and fauna, talks about the state of nature in Singapore and man’s interaction with nature. What more would you want 🙂

There’s also a whole bunch of new initiatives (new being like, after I left for my undergraduate studies which is almost three years now. So maybe not very new. Though I think most were within the past year.), like the Herpetological Society of Singapore, the voting for Singapore’s National Butterfly, Vertebrates of Singapore Facebook group,  Campus Creatures Facebook page, and most recently, a citizen science monitoring scheme for birds and butterflies coordinated by NParks. Which joins TeamSeagrass and various other wildlife-sighting recording schemes for things that the average man/woman on the street can do to get involved with nature in Singapore. And there are all those public outreach programmes by various organisations, coastal walks by Naked Hermit Crabs, forest walks by Love MacRitchie, more school-focused ones by Cicada Tree Eco-place, the new museum, and the Singapore Zoo. There definitely is a growth in citizen science, public engagement and conservation movements based around places in Singapore, and I think that’s a good thing. I came across this article (written by a Singaporean Peterhouse (my Cambridge college) alumni no less) on the conservation movement in Singapore, which is a pretty good summary, but I think we’ve progressed quite a bit since then.

Tagged: ACRES, activism, Animals, AVA, Biodiversity, Conservation, Ecolit, Education, Governance, JGIS, LKCNHM, Macritchie, NParks, Outreach, RMBR, Singapore, Team Seagrass, Toddycats, UK

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