Forget Hollywood, Singapore has got snakes on a car and it is great

Little Red Dot is becoming a green one, shaking off its previously uncaring reputation with calls for wildlife protection

Singaporeans are starting to show more care for the animal inhabitants on the island such as the python and the Raffles banded langur. (PHOTOS: YouTube/Yahoo News Singapore)
Singaporeans are starting to show more care for the animal inhabitants on the island such as the python and the Raffles banded langur. (PHOTOS: YouTube/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE has car-attacking snakes. That’s it. Our boring reputation is ruined. First, Taylor Swift. Then, Deep Purple. And now, car-swiping pythons. At this rate, we’re going to need a week’s worth of Coldplay gigs or risk losing the boring tag forever.

Honestly, have you seen the photos? There is a large, grey python with black and yellow markings, leaping into the air in hot pursuit of a fleeing car tyre. According to reports, the incident happened in Teck Whye Lane on 27 April because the sluggish python had recently eaten and didn’t appreciate being disturbed. And that’s what separates Singaporean reptiles from Singaporean mammals. Snakes will attack cars when they’re digesting a meal. Humans will attack cars when they’re digesting Causeway traffic.

The last time Singapore witnessed any living creature assault a car, was when that woman confused herself for the Hulk and tried to stop a vehicle from moving on the Causeway, which seemed a tad futile. Cars never move on the Causeway.

But the tyre-chasing snake is the first of several wildlife stories with a happy ending. The python did not meet its maker, but the wonderful folks of the Singapore Police Force and Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES). The police steered traffic away from the plump python. ACRES arrived and rescued the python. And Netflix commissioned a shooting script about the python.

Speaking of shooting, such benevolence and kindness towards our native species was not always so commonplace. In those halcyon days of intolerance, I vividly recall watching the sun go down behind the old Specialists’ Shopping Centre as eager members of the Singapore Gun Club gathered in the Orchard Road carpark next door, to blow the heads off passing crows. In the 1990s, there was nothing quite like the soothing sounds of giddy Saturday shoppers, ice-cream cart sellers and shotgun blasts.

(And before any retired Singapore Gun Club members get in touch to say that shotguns were not actually used, but rifles with 0.5 stethoscopes and round-nose R2-D2 bullets, I can only say that I was too busy avoiding high flying bird parts to care.)

But in the previous century, monkeys were for culling, crocodiles were for shoes, otters were for Malaysian waters, dogs were for the rich, cats were for no one, noisy birds were for shooting and songbirds were for caging. In Singapore’s lopsided, urban ecosystem, every creature knew where they stood, until they fell off a branch with shotgun wounds.

Now, the police are cordoning off roads and calling in an animal rescue service to ensure the safety of a contented python behaving like a Friday night drunk on a full stomach, swaggering towards a Honda Fit and telling the car to have a go if it thinks it’s hard enough. The snake’s confidence is matched only by its rescuers’ empathy. It’s wonderful.

But not an isolated incident. In the same week, several wildlife photographers happily recorded the birth of a Raffles’ banded langur – the first baby of the critically endangered species spotted in the wild this year. According to primatologist and local hero Dr Andie Ang, there are now 76 individuals. In the previous century, the native animal was on the verge of extinction. Now, it’s mating like a typical Singaporean, i.e. not very much.

But it’s still better than nothing and Raffles’ banded langurs make fewer mating demands. They just ask for tall trees and a bit of green space, as opposed to a BTO with a balcony, a baby bonus and a confinement nanny.

Singapore even built the Eco-Link@BKE to help the langurs – and other wildlife species – to find each other, stay safe and make babies. One suspects that if HDB built an eco-link from every housing estate to KK Hospital’s maternity ward, it still wouldn’t make Singaporeans procreate any faster.

But it is worth taking a moment to consider how far Singapore has come as an empathetic country. If a society can be measured by how it treats all its inhabitants, then a nation that diverts traffic for a python, builds a bridge for wildlife and fosters an entire community of wildlife watchers, has to be one moving in the right direction.

Of course, it will never be fast enough for some (this writer included). The Punggol Digital District, to pick a familiar example, will create thousands of jobs. But the destruction of the forest also displaced wild boars and hundreds of long-tailed macaques. Many of them, confused and disoriented, turned up in neighbouring housing estates, in areas that were too close for comfort. Far too many of them disappeared.

Every corner of Singapore has a variation on the Punggol Digital District story: Clementi, Kranji, Tengah and Turf City are only the most recent examples. The delicate balancing act of creating a unique city in nature, one that David Attenborough champions as the template for the rest of the world to follow, is a daunting one. But this time around, a healthy number of Singaporeans appear to be on the side of coexistence.

In the same week as the rescued python and the baby langur, a new book titled Singapore Terrestrial Conservation Plan was launched by scientists and conservationists. It’s a nationwide call to arms, essentially asking to protect the forest fragments that remain in Mandai and Lentor and provide a green buffer for our wildlife.

Housing will always be a priority, but the collective effort required to save a single snake, document a newborn langur and produce an extensive conservation plan suggest that priorities are also evolving. Previously, it felt like our default position was to cull. Now it is to keep, whenever possible. That’s an empathetic shift in thinking to be proud of, surely.

Singapore can make coexistence a reality. We can share. Of course, there will always be those who are incapable of sharing, especially those speeding knuckle-draggers on our roads. But if our traffic police need any help, I know a python.

Previously, it felt like our default position was to cull. Now it is to keep, whenever possible. That’s an empathetic shift in thinking to be proud of, surely.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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