Updated: Sep 6
"I didn't see any wild animals on Bukit Timah Hill".
It is a frequently-heard comment from visitors to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. But, the nature reserve is home to many wildlife in the central part of Singapore, so the animals are really roaming around in the forests. It is not that there are no animals, it's just that most visitors are not paying attention in seeking them.
For travellers to Singapore and planning to visit Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which encompasses Bukit Timah Hill, Hindhede Nature Park and Diary Farm Nature Park, you will probably have at most one day to hike and explore the forests. So, it is important to have some basic knowledge about nature in order to have a fruitful trip.
Common Mistakes Made
What are the most common mistakes that visitors made when seeking wild animals? Not just in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve but in all nature parks in Singapore and around the world.
1. Too Rush
Allocating too little time to explore the place. People are always in a rush to finish the hike in the nature reserve as soon as possible, go for ice-cold drinks and on to the next programme of the day. Do they really expect wild animals to line up along the paths to showcase themselves? Then, it will be better to go to the zoo.
2. Rainy Days
Visiting the nature reserve before a rain. Unlike humans who can use raincoats and umbrellas to avoid getting drenched in a rain, animals don't. Through their more developed senses, they will know a rain is coming (sometimes several hours ahead) and seek shelters well before the first raindrop hits the foliage of the forests.
3. Loud Noises
Most animals are shy and they tend to avoid humans as much as possible. Visitors who talk loudly, shout, play music openly, or run with heavy footsteps are scaring the animals away way before you can see them.
4. Visiting on Weekends
Weekends are really bad times to be looking for wild animals as many locals will be there too. When there are crowds, there will be noises. Most locals are there to work-out their muscles and are least interested in wild animals. And they will "drive" the animals away from you. Experienced animal-seekers and bird-watchers will always scout the nature reserve on weekdays or in more secluded spots.
5. Not Understanding Animal Behaviours
There is no need to know a lot about the animals, just some basics will do. For instance, non-nocturnal animals will sleep at night and start to hunt for food after they woke up, so the best time to be looking for most of them should be in the morning. After they fed themselves and their young ones, they will rest for the day or until the next meal time (usually in the late afternoon). The length of feeding time varies depending on the weight of each animal. In general, smaller animals will be done feeding faster than larger animals. Nocturnal animals will usually be sleeping during the day, out of sights.
Also, if humans will avoid the hot sun and get under shades, most animals do that too.
6. Looking for Animals using Eyes
Animals are naturally born with abilities to camouflage themselves in the nature to avoid being detected by their predators or with keen senses to detect other animals nearby. As such, it is usually difficult for people who don't have sharp eyes to spot an animal even if it is just a few feet away.
We (humans) are naturally born with ears to listen to our surroundings but we tend to shut them out by plugging earpieces in them or covering them with headphones. We should be using our ears to listen for sounds made by wild animals more than looking for them with our eyes.
Do Keep Your Ears Open
While walking through the forests, it is our ears that will pick up rustling sounds in the leaves first before we can know where to look for the animals. So, unplug those earpieces and headphones and open your ears to listen to Mother Nature. She will guide you to the animals and also warn you of imminent dangers, especially falling tree branches from above you or a fast-moving animal heading your way.
Singapore's nature reserves are rather "well-tamed" with not many dangerous animals lurking in the forests — tigers are history, but snakes are pretty common. Since the nature reserves are to be kept as natural as possible, most things are left as it is in the forests except for conservation efforts. Visitors should not be complacent and assume that safety is guaranteed. Never walk in the nature with music blasting in the ears.
You will need to listen out for:
sounds made by animals (both friendly and unfriendly),
falling trees and branches,
distant thunder before a rain fall,
loud and cacophony callings by crickets that signal a rain is coming,
approaching cyclists, joggers, other visitors (some may be unfriendly), etc.
In short, keep those ears open — especially when you are alone. You will get more than you ask for.
And good luck! You will need it when searching for the animals.