When human-animal relations are not favourable, human-animal conflicts ensue. In central Singapore, residential development has encroached towards the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (Fig 1), discursively altering the composition of the landscape (Wolch, 2002) and leading to conflicts within the ‘borderland communities’ as space is shared between humans and wild animals (Wolch et al., 2003: 188). Yet, despite the fact that humans were the ones who encroached into such spaces, the wild animals find themselves at the brunt when they transgress the material and metaphorical boundaries (Philo, 1995). The demarcation between urban and nature blurs and the wild animals find themselves removed to restore the perceived order in such spaces (Yeo and Neo, 2010).
Fig 1: Residential developments circled in red (source: NParks, 2017)
Representation of animals by humans has always been political and biased (ibid). The representation of the macaques has generally been shown as problematic in the case of animal transgression, serving to reflect the interests of humans and portraying these nonhumans as ‘out-of-place’ and therefore legitimizing its removal. Macaques that resides within the nature reserve have been reported to enter residents’ flats through windows, stealing bags of groceries and at times even attacking humans (Straits Times, 18/4/2017), portraying the disruptive and dangerous nature of these nonhumans and the problems it brings when the urban-nature boundary is transgressed. This has led to the adoption of culling practices by the environmental agency in a bid to remove these transgressors from human’s everyday life, keeping wildlife ‘where it belongs’.
See videos of such transgressions:
It is heart-warming, however, to see greater consideration towards the material welfare and significance of these nonhuman animals in recent years, with school groups, blogs, animal welfare groups and government agencies pointing out that such transgressions may have been motivated by human behaviours, with reports about humans feeding the macaques, conditioning them to be more reliant and familiar with humans for food (Fig 2). Similarly, there has also been calls by the public and animal welfare groups to rethink culling practices (Straits Times, 5/10/2013; Today, 27/7/2014), extending the humanistic notions of care and ethics to these nonhumans.
Fig 2: Signs educating public upon monkey encounters (source: theeverylastingproject, 2017)
‘The choice to reside close to nature entails the need for humans to adapt to nature, not vice versa’
The macaques’ agency is further manifested through its influence on the home-making of residents as they seek to ‘monkey-proof’ their residence, illustrating the interaction between human-nonhuman processes (Power, 2009).
As cities become increasingly urbanized, we are bound to experience greater human-nonhuman transgressions. There is a need to consider these nonhuman animals in our everyday practices and acknowledge their agency in the construction of human identities and negotiation of spaces. Do you have such experiences to share in your city?
Philo, C. (1995) ‘Animals, geography and the city: notes on inclusions and exclusions’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 13, 655-681.
Power, E. R. (2009) ‘Border-processes and homemaking: encounters with possums in suburban Australian homes, Cultural Geographies, 16, 29-54.
Wolch, J. (2002) ‘Animal urbis’, Progress in Human Geography, 26, 721-742.
Wolch, J., J. Emel, and C. Wilbert (2003) ‘Reanimating cultural geography’, in Anderson, K., M. Domosh, S. Pile and N. Thrift (eds) Handbook of Cultural Geography, London: Sage. 184-206.
Yeo, J. H. and H. Neo (2010) ‘Monkey business: human-animal conflicts in urban Singapore’, Social & Cultural Geography, 11, 7, 681-699.