Yes, if you don’t already know this, you read right! I was just messing around with my computer system when I stumbled upon this: Ecological Corridor for Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
And this is recent too! Oh, how I wish I subscribed to newspapers here in Toronto, and that they were free. I don’t visit news webpages enough, it seems.
So back to this. Finally! Some people would diss the building of an ecological corridor, because being a relatively new field (the concept is not that new, it dates back to beyond 1986), coupled with the fact that ecological experiments and results take years and decades to show, they’d say it’s doesn’t work. Of course, there’s a lot of theoretical work.
How the width and nature of different corridors are suited to different functional groups (ie. predators, prey groups); how vegetation types planted there affect movement of these animals; whether to build above ground or below ground corridors, so on and so forth. Most of the time the conclusion ends up with: what corridor is constructed is specific to what species it is directed towards, and that affects the success of the corridor. And the funny thing is that we just went through this in class last week (again, because in Community Ecology we’re studying the theory of Island Biogeography and patchiness, etc).
So how do we justify building one?
Well it seems that in systems where we cannot afford to lose something, the precautionary approach is one that should be taken (read: we should build it if predicted benefits > costs). In this case, perhaps some would say building one is better than having none at all. For Bukit Timah however, it may prove a case of “too little, too late”. Let’s hope that won’t come true.
Supposedly the link will be done by 2013, if all goes to prediction. Taking into account that the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) was built in 1986, that’s some 27 years of physical isolation between the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). Will behaviour and migration patterns of local animals have changed? Will animals, used to a relatively ‘quiet’ habitat within the forest (especially of the CCNR that is >3000ha large), move to the BTNR, and vice versa, over cars and vehicles zooming past below them? Noise and lights are a significant disturbance to many animals, and enough to induce behavioural changes.
So many more questions could arise regarding the specifics of the corridor. Is 50m at its narrowest enough? How strong do you build it? Of course, these questions should not promote inaction, but they should be tackled so that we think critically about our actions, and their consequences.
Grace Chua writes in the Straits Times: “..[the corridor will be] planted with dense trees resembling a forest habitat, could help populations of animals like the critically-endangered banded leaf monkey to recover”.
Banded-leaf monkeys are extremely shy, arboreal creatures, hardly seen by people because they live so high up, avoiding noise and disturbance. The media has an important role in education, and should moderate the public’s expectation of a result like this. Should their movement patterns not include the eco-corridor in a couple of years, critics may claim eco-corridors don’t work after all, when in fact there are many things we have yet to learn not only about eco-corridor functionality, but also about even the banded-leaf monkey life history and characteristics.
Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada has been a leader in eco-corridors (refer: wildlife crossings) and they are in a similar state with BTNR-CCNR road bisection by the BKE. They have been successful in promoting the movement of many animals, but one should note that different animals have different characteristics and functionalities. While concepts such as learning curves and infrastructure to improve corridors can be generalised for application, we should take note not to promote high expectations of corridors that might eventually lead to a ‘perceived failure’ of them when they do not deliver within a given timespan.
Again, because of generational times of animals and plants, their population dynamics and disturbances, results of building the corridor may be difficult to predict, or discern even after a decade. As Navjot Sodhi of the Conservation Ecology Lab at NUS says, “only time will tell.”. Meanwhile, as we wait, we should continue our efforts to preserve biodiversity, educate the masses and re-tune attitudes of today towards making an effort for the environment we live in, if not for the environment/animals, then for ourselves.
It is heartening then, to note that the National Parks has come up with a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. As a citizen and as a human being, we all have a stake in what surrounds us. Sacrificing nature for pure concrete buildings without a thought for leaving the same or more capital and environmental wealth for the next generation to carry on is not mature, it is not smart. We are fortunate to be living in Singapore, where majority of us can afford to address our basic necessities and focus on other interests such as culture, arts, etc – so in this day and age, let us not only learn more, but take action for our lives and for the generations to come.