Hey let’s take a picture with thi…MY BAG!

Hi guys, it’s been a while but we’re back! So, with all the trekking up and down the forest, we realized that a lot of Singaporeans don’t really know how to deal with wildlife. We’re a city in a garden – but do any of us knows what that really entails?

Opening walk!
Opening walk: All those happy faces after a hard walk!

So, this post will be about wildlife-human conflict: learning how to live near a forest and all its inhabitants. Understanding this is just part and parcel of being stewards of this land, and although we claim to be fully urbanised, green spaces are also included! Living on a small island like Singapore means that we often have direct contact with any of the wildlife we have, whether they are roaming our urban landscapes as familiar creatures or encroaching on our spaces by venturing out of their usual natural habitat. The 2012 boar attack saga and our continual struggle with long-tailed macaques only highlight the fact that many of the us are still ill-equipped to deal with wild creatures in our interactions with them.

So here’s the post to boost your knowledge! We will be covering two main topics: conflict with monkeys and what to do with an injured animal.

Long-tailed Macaque
Long-tailed Macaque

Conflict with long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have been a huge issue in Singapore in the recent few years. As our housing estates inch closer to forested areas, so does our proximity with the residents of these nature areas. As we start to interact with one another, inappropriate behavior has exacerbated the already tense situation.

So to those who are faced with macaques, here are some tips to live by:

1. Don’t freak out.

While macaques can look terrifying at times, we are ten times more scary to them as they are to us. We are their equivalent of King Kong and not in the fun way. So when we scream and flail, our panic is palpable and they will react to the situation too. So, resist the urge to shriek and wave sticks in their direction as it only worsens the situation. If you feel that they are getting too close, establishing boundaries by pointing (not waving!); a stick will be effective. However, it’s better to just walk away and as the saying goes, Keep Calm and no seriously, keep calm.

2. Do not stare or smile (This is not a zoo exhibit).

Back away…slowly

It would be good to keep in mind that these monkeys are wild and are not domesticated or tamed in any way. Hence, staring and smiling at them as if they are in a zoo exhibit is not a good idea at all. For one staring, in monkey psychology, is an aggressive behavior and when they stare at you, this means they feel threatened. So, when you stare back, especially in the eye, you’re challenging them. Another important point is smiling, you should not, never, smile at a monkey. While we Homo sapiens view this as friendly behavior, they do not. When you bare your teeth at them, this makes them uncomfortable as fang-flashing is a scare tactic in the primate world. Should you feel the urge to coo at them, then smile with your lips and not with your teeth.

3.Plastic bags…just don’t.

Other than the fact that they’re environmentally unfriendly, the crinkling of plastic bags is, to put in the words of Amy and Sabrina (an awesome pair of monkey researchers), “monkey crack”. They have long learnt to associate plastic bags with food and they will snatch it right out your hand. Survival of the fittest so bringing one into a area where you know troops of monkeys are hanging out is like wandering into dark alleys in the middle of the night. Don’t do it. Use wonderful reusable cloth bags that make no such sound and don’t rip like plastic bags do. If you have a snack that you want to eat, try to make as little noise as you can. However, it’s not a good idea to eat in front of a troop of hungry monkeys. So if you are starving, it’s better to move to an area where there aren’t any monkeys waiting to pounce on you for your chips.

4. Monkey vs Human: Monkey wins (usually).

You and what army?! (Cue entire troop of monkey hiding in the trees)

So the next time, a monkey snatches something of yours, don’t try to play tug of war with it. You’re not going to win even with your superior size because these macaques travel in troops and they are big on teamwork. The big males in the troop will often step in and help. It’s best to simply let them take it, your safety is more important! They usually lose interest in it and drop it. However, do take note that even things that they have set down, they still consider it theirs. So it’s better to wait until they’re not looking before you take your stuff back. Then again, it’s best to keep all your valuable items in a secure place, backpack or purse to prevent anything or getting stolen.

With that, I hope you have a better understanding on how to deal with macaques. Now, on to our second topic: What if I see an injured macaque or animal?

1. Don’t freak out.

This is pretty much the golden rule for any wildlife encounter (or really any strange encounter in life). They are already stressed from being injured and your terror will only make the situation worse.

2. Is it really injured or in need of help?

Observe them calmly for a moment to decide if they are really injured. This might sound stupid but sometimes a second glance can really clarify things. If you think you have found a lost young animal, your heart of gold tells you to rescue it. Don’t do it! Sometimes, young animals wander off like toddlers do so don’t take them even if they look lost! Their parents are often not far away and they will react negatively to you seemingly kidnapping their offspring. Moreover, removing healthy wildlife from their natural habitat is a criminal offense for majority of species in Singapore.

3. Domestic or Wild?

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.48.41 pm
Domestic (startled cat) vs Wild (beautiful baby starling)

There are different steps to do if you are faced with a hurt dog or a hurt bat. So, take a moment to see if the animal is a domestic one (dogs, rabbits, cats etc) or a wild one (macaques, civets, bats etc.)

4 Approach the relevant authorities 

Wild animals are not used to giant hands touching them and they are likely to attack if they feel threatened. Moreover, since majority of us are not trained specialists, we are far more likely to harm the animal rather than soothe it. Call ACRES Wildlife Rescue Hotline: 97837782, they will assist you and a ACRES Wildlife Rescue Team will likely be dispatched to help the animal. If you have to move it to a safer location (away from a road), cover it with a box with breathing holes and slide a lid/thin board underneath. Then, carry it away. However, it’s best not to touch it at all unless it’s in a dangerous location. Read the ACRES extremely useful website for more information.

Domestic animals like dogs and cats are used to human touch so there is a lower chance of them biting your hand if you attempt to move them. However, there is still a chance. So, check the situation and if they are snarling and growling, it’s best to just leave them as they are. Call SPCA 24 –Hour emergency hotline: 62875355. They will give you advice and assist you in helping the creature. Read their very instructive page for more detailed information on what to do.

Thus, we have come to the end of this (hopefully) informative post that will help you become better stewards of our earth! Or at least, how to handle wildlife. Well, see you at the next post:)

Many thanks to a whole lot of people who have made this post possible! Firstly, Amy and Sabrina for their great information on macaques! Secondly, Joy for sharing this information with us! Lastly, Jac for the awesome photos!

For more cool photos, check our Flickr page!

Words by: Melissa Wong

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