S'pore biologist explains why wild boar was bold enough to go after woman's food on Pulau Ubin

Feeding wildlife is a big no.

Ashley Tan | November 23, 2020, 12:05 PM

You might have heard of the news about a woman's bicycle basket getting raided by a rather bold wild boar on Pulau Ubin.

The viral video of the boar standing up on its hind legs to retrieve the basket's contents caused quite a stir online, especially after a recent report of a woman at Pasir Ris Park experiencing a boar attack which left her with lacerations.

Associating people with food

In response to the incident, local biologist and National University of Singapore lecturer N Sivasothi took to Facebook to explain the rationale behind the human-wildlife encounter.

Sivasothi said that processed food and "agricultural food" that people consume are rich in calories, and wildlife would choose to eat this if they can, as compared to natural foods from the wild.

Rather like macaques, wild boars have come to associate people with food, and subsequently, plastic bags as containing food.

In the case of the former, advisories have been consistently displayed at Singapore's nature reserves to store one's plastic bags in their bags to avoid cheeky monkeys mistaking them for food and stealing them.

This association between people, food and plastic bags has been developed by people feeding wildlife, Sivasothi said.

The boar at Pulau Ubin "has worked it out well", and decided to choose the method of "minimal energy spent" to acquire food.

Sivasothi added that during the Phase 2 period, the visitorship to Ubin doubled to 45,000 people per month.

With most of these people being "non-regular visitors" unfamiliar with nature and wildlife, feeding animals could have occurred more frequently.

Three things to note

Sivasothi thus dispensed three pieces of advice to members of the public.

1. Don't feed the wildlife.

"Adaptable" wildlife like macaques and boars "end up approaching people, sometimes with unfortunate consequences (scratch or gore)".

The amended Wildlife Act however, includes a law prohibiting the feeding of wildlife, which incurs a fine of S$5,000 for first-time offenders and S$10,000 for second-time offenders.

2. Visitors to green spaces should keep their plastic bags out of view.

It reduces the chances of wildlife approaching visitors. When wildlife attempt to steal food, the food is eventually surrendered to the animal as well, which reinforces the animals' behaviour, Sivasothi states.

Sivasothi said: "To wildlife, it’s the equivalent of learning how to use a vending machine. Press the right buttons and there’s a reward!"

3. Food is plentiful in the forest.

Letting animals hunt for food — which also have lower calories — by themselves in the forest helps to keep the wild population in check and sustainable for the ecosystem.

Feeding wildlife merely amplifies the population beyond that which is sustainable for the forest and makes them accustomed to the presence of humans.

Sivasothi ended his post with a forewarning, stating that with the government's vision of a "City in Nature", more of such encounters are likely to come.

"Expect more as we target to be a City In Nature. Plenty of work is ongoing. At least now agencies realise they better plan for this ahead, during construction phase of forest-type new towns.

Animals are fairly predictable, and humans can learn new tricks. So we can learn to coexist effectively; it will take time.

At least it’s not elephants!"

You can read Sivasothi's full post here.

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Top photo from N Sivasothi / FB and Meng Nguan / FB