Using cities as conservation zones

Recently, Forbes published an article about the conservation of endangered parrots in urbanized areas. The post talks about the presence of more than 13 species of parrots in San Diego county, most of which are native to countries in Central or South America and thriving in the city. It got me thinking whether Singapore can make use of a similar method to preserve and protect our local wildlife.

 

Often, we hear that large patches of pristine habitats are required for successful conservation and protection of wildlife. Yet, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve seems to prove that idea wrong. Singapore lost more than 90% of her forest cover in the 1800s due to agriculture and plantations (O’Dempsey et al., 2014), but has largely recovered amidst urbanization and development plans due to the immense restoration efforts by the government. The recovery of small forest patches allowed for the displaced fauna to return and bounce back.

 

Some examples of fauna that have recovered since then are the Oriental pied hornbill and smooth-coated otters. Now, hornbills and otters are frequently sighted in some of Singapore’s parks and gardens. These animals appear to have adapted to the urban environment, especially so for the Oriental pied hornbill where it is able to live and reproduce in urban habitats if there is sufficient food in the area (Chong, 1998). Another species that has done well in urban environments is the Javan myna. Since its introduction to Singapore in the 1920, the bird has spread considerably and its population was recently predicted to be more than 100,000 individuals (Lin, 2016). These urban species are able to make use of anthropogenic settlements and landscapes to find food, enabling them to survive outside of their native habitats.

 

Perhaps non-parrot species can also be intentionally released into the concrete jungle as a means of conservation. Since the smooth-coated otters and oriental pied hornbills have rather successfully integrated into man-made environments, it is possible that other species might also be able to find suitable niches and habitats to occupy. Globally threatened animals like the straw-headed bulbul can be considered for urban conservation. Although the preferred habitat of the straw-headed bulbul is in forest edges, urban environments with plenty of green spaces to provide sufficient food and nesting sites might provide the bulbuls an alternative habitat. The omnivorous diet of these bulbuls might be advantageous in helping them make use of the resources in urban settings.

 

This idea might not be suitable for strictly forest dwelling species but for animals that are able to live in a variety of habitats, conservation in cities might be a possible alternative as long as appropriate regulations are put in place (to prevent poaching in the city). Cities only continue to grow as the urban population grows—and this is estimated to grow by about 2.5 billion by 2050 (United Nations, 2018); why not provide suitable habitats for endangered species within the city to aid in conservation efforts?

 

References:

Chong, M. H. N., (1998). A survey of hornbills in rain forest habitats of Peninsular Malaysia. In: Poonswad, P. (ed.), The Asian Hornbills: Ecology and Conservation. Thai Studies in Biodiversity, 2: 1–336. pp. 13–22.

Lin, Y. (2016, 22 Apr). The Javan mynah: Today’s pest, tomorrow’s food? The Straits Times. Accessed 15 April 2019. Available from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/the-javan-mynah-todays-pest-tomorrows-food

O’Dempsey, T., Emmanuel, M., van Whye, J., Taylor, N. P., Tan, F. L. P., Chou, C., Yi, G. H. and Heng, C., (2014). Singapore’s changing landscape since c. 1800. In: Barnard, T. (ed.), Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore. NUS Press, pp. 17–48.

United Nations (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. United Nations Population Division. Accessed 15 April 2019. Available from https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-KeyFacts.pdf

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