Dr. Jane Goodall recently visited Singapore and some of us had the opportunity to attend a panel of discussion organized by The Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, NUS and the Jane Goodall Institute Singapore (JGIS). The main focus of this panel was wildlife protection and bringing various organizations together for such an effort in Singapore. A diverse group of people ranging from researchers, to members of NParks, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Nature Society Singapore (NSS), to environmental law faculty participated.
The meeting involved discussion of a wide range of topics, from general wildlife conservation to primate conservation in Singapore and the matters of youth empowerment and education. Prof. Rudolf Meier started the ball rolling by raising the possibility of translocation as a means of bringing extinct or rare wildlife back to Singapore, e.g. cream-colored giant squirrel and banded leaf monkey. Nick Baker discussed potential problems but also highlighted the contributions by students like Marcus, Andie, and Amrita who gather critical ecological information on these species with the support of NParks, WRS, and NGOs.
Dr. Goodall stressed the importance of youth empowerment in any conservation project. Giving examples of her own rich experiences, she encouraged members in the panel to actively support youth-driven projects like the JGIS Roots and Shoots programme. This allows youth to initiate campaigns and make a difference. JGIS president Beng Chiak and Dr. Shawn Lum were also positive about the gradual changes in our curriculum, as we see a greater emphasis on our natural heritage and its preservation, beyond just the brown issues like recycling.
Mr. Wong Tuan Wah and Mr. James Gan from NParks were particularly concerned with the long-tailed macaque management in urban Singapore. This led Dr. Jane Goodall to discuss how similar the problems were in Asia and Africa, where she has done a lot of work on baboons which are commonly involved in human-monkey conflicts. This led to a discussion of the problems, such as ownership of these animals, and a number of suggestions were brought up. For example, Singapore’s macaque expert Crystal Riley (a former student of Dr. Michael Gumert of NTU) and NUS biology graduate Fam Shun Deng favored the idea of a central agency responsible for all macaque issue. Mr. Biswajit Guha from the Singapore Zoo described how to increase public awareness and educate the public to harmoniously interact with macaques in Singapore. At this time, our Prof. Meier suggested the creation of a monkey app: Snap a monkey photo, share sighting stories, promote education and awareness!
Dr Goodall mentioned that she was intrigued by the inclination of humans to feed monkeys, and ended the inspiring 2-hr session with a dissertation idea: “Is feeding monkeys part of human nature?? Any takers, aspiring biologists from NUS?