People feeding wildlife doing more harm than good: Experts
Their 'good intentions' will make animals see humans as food sources and spark more 'beast v man' conflicts
They may do it with the best of intentions, but people who feed wild animals are contributing to the rise of "beast versus man" encounters in Singapore.
Recent incidents, such as the wild boar rampage in Punggol and monkeys stealing food from picnickers at West Coast Park, have raised concern about more such conflicts.
MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng said this was a factor for his tabling of amendments for stricter penalties in the Wild Animals and Birds Act in a private member's Bill in Parliament in March last year.
On the good intentions behind the feeding of animals, he told The New Paper: "There is no doubt these people are kind-hearted. That makes it tough for them to understand that what they are doing is wrong."
His amendments in the renamed Wildlife Act became law last June.
In January this year, 19 people were charged in court for feeding wild boars in Lorong Halus. Eleven of them pleaded guilty and were fined $2,500 each, said the National Parks Board (NParks) in a statement to TNP.
Under the Wildlife Act, first-time offenders can be fined up to $5,000 and repeat offenders up to $10,000.
Mr Ng, an animal rights activist who founded the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), said such laws are necessary to ensure that wild animals do not view humans as food sources.
"The minute you feed these boars, their behaviour alters and they are likely to turn aggressive when people don't feed them.
"That is because they can't distinguish between a person who feeds them and a person who doesn't," he said.
Human food items also tend to have high sugar content, which leads to an increase in breeding cycles and ultimately an overpopulation of these animals, he added.
Beyond enforcement actions, NParks has a "Say no to feeding wildlife" campaign, aimed at raising awareness on the detrimental effects of such actions.
Launched on Jan 13, the campaign reached out to the public through educational signs, standees and posters at feeding hot spots, such as Pasir Ris and Lorong Halus.
Dr Adrian Loo, group director of wildlife management at NParks, said the hot spots were identified based on the mapping of the wildlife distribution and feedback throughout Singapore. These areas have since seen a significant drop in wildlife feeding.
Ms Anbarasi Boopal, co-chief executive of Acres, agrees the new legislation is a progressive step in the right direction, but she thinks more can be done to increase public awareness.
"Education should not come just from NParks. Town councils and estate management offices should support outreach programmes to actively engage residents not to feed animals and manage their food waste appropriately," she said.
Out of 600 human-wildlife conflict cases handled by Acres last year, 80 per cent to 90 per cent involved animals being attracted to food, she added.
Curbing wildlife feeding, while effective on its own, should also go hand in hand with proactive measures to protect wildlife, said Mr Ng, highlighting amended legislation allowing the director-general of wildlife management at NParks to direct developers to ensure the protection of wildlife.
On development in Punggol, he said the directions to put up hoardings and wildlife shepherding were important steps to take before development began.
"The idea is for us to be proactive instead of reactive, so we can develop buildings while being sensitive to wildlife."
On Feb 20, a wild boar attacked at least three people around Punggol Walk and was euthanised six days later.
Ms Anbarasi believes such wild boar sightings and attacks are a consequence of intensive development, and some proactive measures may not be sufficient to stop the problem.
"Shepherding and measures may be sufficient only within a site. Forests, once lost, are gone so animals will get displaced. Where they are shepherded to may not sustain a bigger population, resulting in spillovers, roadkills and human-wildlife conflict situations," she said,
Calling for a national strategy to address where animals fall into the City in Nature concept, she suggested tapping the expertise of nature groups and experts to create a more holistic plan to protect both humans and animals.
"It starts with proper urban planning and intensive outreach targeted at every single resident," she said.
"(Everyone needs) to actively play a role, either by practising wildlife etiquette or by voicing their concern about conservation and welfare. In the end, (the hope is for us) to coexist with wildlife."