The wild crocodile found near Marina East Drive in October had to be culled because it posed a significant risk to public safety, given its proximity to East Coast Park.
Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How explained in Parliament on Tuesday that the crocodile was spotted about 2km away from East Coast Park, which is a 10-minute swim for a crocodile “moving at stealth” in the waters.
“As East Coast Park is a popular destination that receives 7.5 million visits a year, the assessment was that the crocodile posed a significant risk to public safety,” he said.
The culling of the reptile drew a strong reaction from animal conservation and welfare groups and sparked a fierce debate online.
Mr Tan was responding to a question from Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who had asked how the National Parks Board (NParks) decides on its strategies for urban wildlife management and the factors it considers when handling different species, following NParks’ culling of the crocodile.
In the case of saltwater crocodiles like the large adult crocodile found in Marina East Drive, public safety is a major consideration as they are apex predators and stealthy, opportunistic feeders that are known to have attacked and killed humans in other countries, said Mr Tan, who is also Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information.
In September and October, three suspected crocodile attacks were reported in Sabah, moving the authorities there to cull five of them.
Outlining the statutory board’s approach to handling crocodiles, Mr Tan said NParks will first assess if there is an immediate threat to public safety when there are sightings of the creature.
He said: “For example, if the sighting is at a recreational destination, NParks will trap the crocodile and try to relocate or rehome it.
“In doing so, NParks takes into account the strong homing instinct of estuarine crocodiles to return to (the) location of capture.”
Mr Tan said the board first explored the option of relocating the 3m-long crocodile to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, but the location could not take in more crocodiles, “given the reserve’s large existing crocodile population” of about 20 reptiles.
“In any case, moving the crocodile away from the Marina East beach would have risked it returning to the site, venturing to East Coast Park, or even straying into another area with high human activity along our coastline. If so, it would pose a substantial threat to public safety, given its large size and predatory nature,” he added.
As reported by The Straits Times, the Mandai Wildlife Group was also unable to rehome the crocodile due to factors including possible negative effects on the zoo’s population planning, Mr Tan said.
As there was “no feasible option for relocation or rehoming”, the board decided to euthanise the crocodile in the interest of public safety.
Mr Tan said: “The decision was not taken lightly.
“The euthanasia was done by a veterinarian, in accordance with international standards.”
NParks’ approach to handling crocodiles is aligned with that of many other jurisdictions like the city of Darwin in Australia, where crocodiles are actively removed from areas of high human activity to reduce the likelihood of crocodile attacks, and are either rehomed or put down, he said.
As people are brought closer to nature in Singapore, human-wildlife encounters will need to be managed carefully, said Mr Tan.
This means cultivating public awareness and the appreciation of nature while ensuring public health and safety in the densely populated city-state, he added.
To manage wildlife here, NParks studies the population trends and the distribution of various species, said Mr Tan.
Findings from these studies and consultations with wildlife and local experts guide NParks’ strategies for managing wildlife such as birds that are pests, long-tailed macaques and wild boars.
Before taking action to manage wildlife, NParks takes into account factors including threats to public health and safety, animal welfare and the impact on native biodiversity.
Measures adopted include removing animals from urban areas and modifying habitats to reduce food sources. For example, to mitigate the risk to public safety from Singapore’s wild crocodile population, NParks has installed fences at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to prevent crocodiles from getting onto footpaths.
He said: “In addition, NParks conducts regular population surveys of the reserve’s crocodiles and (is) exploring the use of technology to track their movements.”
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked if NParks can consult animal welfare groups, nature groups and youth leaders from the Youth Stewards for Nature programme on its framework, so there can be consensus on how Singapore moves forward in future cases of conflict between humans and wildlife.
Responding to Mr Ng, Mr Tan said: “We readily engage the stakeholder groups, animal welfare groups, experts, and we share some of these considerations with them all the time.
“So the framework is not something that’s new… It’s actually based on community inputs but, importantly, based on science.”
Source: The Straits Times