I’m finally drawing my gap year to a close, after almost 21 months. So I thought it would be good to write my last post in Singapore about what I’ve learnt after these 21 months.
I’ve been blessed enough to have had a wealth of experiences in my gap year, thanks to the efforts of many who have inspired and guided and helped me along the way. I’ve had working experience in the Education department of the Singapore Zoo, in the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and in the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC) of the National Parks Board (NParks). I’ve attended talks on a variety of topics (conservation, climate change, biodiversity etc) by researchers and other inspiring people, dialogue sessions with politicians, volunteered with TeamSeagrass and Mega Marine Survey regularly, went for walks with my friends and travelled overseas to volunteer with Rimba in Malaysia and with Coral Cay Conservation in the Philippines. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many amazing individuals who inspire and motivate me, have had great discussions with many like-minded people about many issues that matter to me, and learnt a lot from the accumulation of all these experiences.
I realised that in Singapore, conservation is inevitably linked to development. Much of the concerns we have revolve around land-use – wonderful Nature areas (not protected by law) disappearing because of the need for more housing estates or roads, amazing marine life suffering because of the need for more land. It becomes a “Can we save this from development? How can we convince the government that this place is worth saving?”, a civil society (NGOs and passionate individuals) vs. the government thing. And of course, being a highly urbanised city, there are issues about human-wildlife conflict (macaques, wild boars, stray dogs, nuisance crows and mynas…) as well, with the people (general public) occasionally not being happy with certain organisms acting in certain ways and expecting the government to deal with the “problem”. Which gets confusing when there are different government agencies to approach for different situations…
I also realised that being part of the public service, you are working and representing the government, and often times have to say what “they” want to hear lest you lost your job. And many times, even if you know of something that’s going to happen that you disagree with, you can hardly voice out your objections and let others know. It seems that the best strategy is to facilitate discussions and keep in the loop so as to be able to pre-empt.
Perhaps the most important thing I learnt is that people often connect to places and one of the best ways to keep people loyal to Singapore (to come back after studying/working overseas) is to make sure that they have something to come back for. If all our Nature areas have been developed, I’m not too sure what I’d be coming back for… For one, it would be difficult for me to find employment, but for another, that would be memories displaced and valuable natural heritage gone.
However, looking at conservation issues from Singapore’s perspective can also be rather limited, seeing how small and rather homogenous we are.
Especially in the less developed countries, poverty is an issue, the livelihood of the people. Oftentimes, it’s between conservation and their livelihoods, as compared to further development for us. It’s a much harder issue to debate: for us, it’s a matter of when do we know what’s enough, but for them, how can you tell people not to do something (that harms the environment) if it means that they’ll go hungry?
Poaching is often a major problem, and can even degenerate into organised crime. With the high demand for animals with perceived medicinal properties, and the technology that we have today, wildlife trade has gone international and is an increasingly difficult problem to tackle. It also doesn’t help that corruption is often also prevalent in countries which have high biodiversity, making work harder for everyone else who wants to make a difference.
Even with regards to human-wildlife conflict, their problems are usually much larger in scale, dealing with elephants, tigers and orangutans (on top of macaques and wild boars), and the consequences usually more major than ours (crop raiding & loss of income & definite threat to public safety vs nuisance & perhaps threat to public safety. Not to say that our problems are too minor and trivial, just trying to put things into perspective.)
I guess our problems are those of a developed and highly urbanised country, and hence vastly different from those around the region – loss of further development vs loss of livelihood; bureaucracy vs corruption; wildlife being a nuisance vs wildlife being a threat.
All in all, it’s been an amazing 21 months spent trying to understand more about the real world, how working life is like and gaining insights into the field of conservation. If I’ve not said personally said my thanks to all who have helped me in one way or another during my gap year, please know that I am really grateful for the experiences and opportunities that I’ve been presented with (:
Coming up next, the next chapter of my life: undergraduate studies in Zoology at the University of Cambridge! Guess my future posts will take on a different slant from all those that I’ve posted so far…