What an insightful Saturday morning!
I had signed up for this event to learn about nature education and outreach in Singapore. More specifically, I wanted to know how to talk to people about nature and animals, believing it was a way to get them concerned about the environmental crisis. Unexpectedly, wildlife educator Cyrena shared so much more that day! Apart from communication strategies, she also gave us a peek into her life at the NParks’ Wildlife Management & Outreach branch. I left the session with a greater understanding of the human-wildlife interactions that take place in Singapore.
What I Learned
Perhaps I have never given it much thought, but I was intrigued to find out that instances of human-wildlife interaction are common in Singapore. Unfortunately, these interactions are sometimes perceived as or escalate into conflicts. Cyrena explained that some people may have misconceptions about the dangers posed by our wildlife. Additionally, many are unsure of how to handle situations of human-wildlife interaction. Hence, through her outreach programmes, Cyrena hopes that people can become more aware of our resident animals, their respective behaviours, and what to do when encountering them. She also assured us that people don’t have to love them – something I believe both the general public and future wildlife educators should remember. Learning how to handle human-wildlife interactions may be easier without the pressure of becoming an animal-enthusiast.
Something I was surprised to learn was that responding to reports of issues with wildlife is very much like conducting social work! Some cases would involve a long-term investment of time and energy, comprising site-visits, interviews with stakeholders, and ongoing research. Sometimes, it would be necessary to enforce guidelines or laws. However, encouraging behavioural or attitude change among stakeholders is also crucial. From Cyrena’s perspective, the whole process is one of trial and error.
Zooming in, Cyrena emphasised the importance of being empathetic and understanding of another’s’ point of view. While some of us may be more receptive to animals, others may have had a nasty experience with them, prompting their negative attitude. Some may also be less-informed about Singapore’s wildlife, leading to a fear of the unknown. Furthermore, understanding their perspectives may help uncover interconnected social issues or root causes of the problem. Developing solutions to target these may be more effective in the long-run, as compared to simply imposing restrictions and fines.
One new insight I have about wildlife outreach is that it is helpful to give information in small pieces and allow the listener time to digest it themselves. Cyrena talked about this in the context of solving a human-wildlife interaction problem, but I believe it can apply to more general contexts of wildlife education as well. Allowing people to make sense of the information themselves may help them find personal reasons to be more aware of how to treat our wildlife. By doing so, they will hopefully internalise their learnings, leading to more sustainable attitude and behavioural change.
Human-Wildlife Coexistence for Singapore
Drawing inspiration from the story behind Rare’s pride campaigns, I believe incorporating our wildlife into our identity and everyday lives is a way to improve Singapore’s human-wildlife relationship. Here’s one example of how we can do so:
Some MRT stations display videos which explain the services offered there or encourage civic-minded behaviour. The government has made them engaging by incorporating characters from famous animated movies or designing them to resemble video games. Instead of borrowing characters or creating new ones, how about taking inspiration from our local wildlife? We can turn them into (accurately drawn) cartoons, give them cute names, and make them the stars of these public service videos. We can even include fun (but important) facts about their habitat, activity, and diet at the end of every video. If possible, we should emphasise their uniqueness to Singapore as well!
Such campaigns are about increasing the public’s exposure to these animals, beyond the sphere of wildlife education, and to have people associate positively with them. Ideally, it should also leave the impression that Singapore cares about its wildlife and encourage a feeling of pride and ownership for our animals. In Rare’s case, Pride campaigns are used to rally local support for conservation efforts. Maybe it can put Singapore on track to achieving human-wildlife coexistence!
While listening to Cyrena, I felt inspired by her empathy towards others and her passion for helping them. I appreciated how she humbly admitted she still makes mistakes but strives to learn from them. I also realised that there’s a lot of hard work involved in balancing the needs of Singapore’s residents and those of our natural environment. So, a big thanks to Cyrena and all those working in this area!