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A practical approach to conservation

For many Singaporeans, the only live chicks they might see are those at the Science Centre's Discovery Zone. Residents at Sin Ming-Bright Hill, however, have had more opportunity, although not all of them welcome it. Over the past year, flocks of chicken have regularly appeared in their estates, with a lone rooster often leading a pack that also includes a peep of chicks. Their unhurried progress along the estates' perimeters has lent a certain rustic charm to the area. Those enamoured of bird life and an appreciation of nature tend to be tolerant of the birds. Others get irked when the birds attempt to take wing and sometimes mistakenly announce that daybreak has arrived in the dead of night.

Chickens gone feral are not alone. The loudness of Asian Koels and crows, droppings of pigeons, slithery presence of snakes and monitor lizards, and foraging instinct of monkeys have also led to complaints from people living in certain areas. In Sin Ming, some two dozen of the chicken were culled by the authorities. More may have to go, if this is found necessary by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and NParks. First, there is a fear that the chickens may spread bird flu. Second, there is a need to protect the habitat of the wild red fowl, a bird native to these parts and recognised by its trademark grey legs (whereas chicken tend to have yellow legs). Purebred jungle fowl are known to occur only on offshore Pulau Ubin and the Western Catchment area. Unlike their domesticated cousin, the red fowl is regarded as endangered in these parts.

Earlier, hundreds of wild monkeys were culled as their population grew and they encroached into housing estates. A number of residents applauded the move but the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society opposed it. One poll showed that about half of Singaporeans were ambivalent about culling, which is done humanely here as a last resort. A decade ago, crows were targeted, causing their number to come down from more than 150,000 to less than a third of that number. Most of the culling is done by nature itself but, on occasion, human intervention is necessary - for example, to protect tree and animal life or the welfare of humans.

The key point is that one should not close off the option of culling when other solutions - like herding certain animals to specific areas - are simply not practical. The common goal should be to achieve a proper balance between people and nature. The ecosystem, for example, requires certain areas, like the banks of rivers, to be left wild to promote biodiversity. So, one should not simply mow down nature to cater to the finicky. But when plant and animal populations are out of kilter - as can happen when residents thoughtlessly feed wild creatures - measured steps will be needed to restore the right balance in urban settings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'A practical approach to conservation'. Print Edition | Subscribe