How OBS instructors coexist with wildlife

A lot more goes into it than you might think.

Alicia Ang

Strength: Memorising lyrics. Weakness: Having least 144 tabs open at all times.

Published: 12 November 2021, 11:11 AM

I’m willing to admit that before I went on this trip, I didn’t know a lot about Singapore’s wildlife.

What I did know was mostly told to me through warnings from my parents – namely, “don’t look at, feed or hold food near monkeys”.

When I went down to Outward Bound Singapore on Sep 22 to attend two wildlife workshops, I thought it would just be a day of learning and taking notes. I was way out of my depth. 

When I got there, I was introduced to the four OBS instructors I would be paired with, as well as the people who run the Otter Working Group (OWG). They consisted of volunteers and residents of the area, and they were the ones who had set up a route for us to walk as they taught us about otters.

As we walked, the residents shared stories about the otters. One story was about how a discarded fishing hook had gotten lodged in an otter pup’s throat, and how it slowly starved to death. It became clear how important this cause was to them as we listened to them speak, and I felt their passion come through while on the trail.

“Some people think they’re pests because they eat our fish,” one resident stated, “but from an otter’s point of view, the only difference between fish in the sea and in a pond is that one is easier to catch.”

As the walk progressed, the instructors I was with started discussing how to integrate these stories into their courses and how to weave these into impactful lessons. Like Monday’s session, they were listening attentively to the volunteers, and brainstorming ideas for future OBS camps on the spot.


The animal handling workshops were very hands-on. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ALICIA ANG


After lunch, we sat down to learn about handling wildlife with ACRES, a wildlife rescue service. We learned about the types of wildlife common in Singapore and the trainers cleared up some common misconceptions.

I never knew there were 60 species of snakes in Singapore. And, for all of my fear (and most people’s) of snakes, they actually avoid humans at all costs. Even venomous snakes are unlikely to hurt you, as spitting their venom is a last resort which takes a lot out of them.

We also learned about dealing with monkeys – don’t make eye contact, don’t mimic their facial expressions and keep food hidden. As for wild boars, simply move away slowly with no sudden movements, and keep pets on a leash to avoid any provocation. 

We were taught this with a series of hands-on demonstrations where participants pretended to be either the wild animals and the humans provoking them. Despite how silly it seemed, the visual demonstrations were surprisingly effective – even more than a week after the workshops, I can still remember the exact steps to take in each scenario with wild animals vividly.

I was also taken aback by how little I knew about the wildlife we coexist with. Looking back, I had been so scared of snakes, wild boars, bats and monkeys because I had assumed they were dangerous without ever doing my research to confirm that assumption. 

One example a trainer shared that stuck with me was about the language that ACRES operators used when advising a member of the public. 

“We never soothe them by saying the animals are harmless, because that implies there are animals that are harmful,” she shared. “They’re not aware of human boundaries, so it’s not their fault when they end up in places where we live.”


Each team took time to share what they had learned for the day. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ALICIA ANG
Even I was asked to share my thoughts! PHOTO CREDIT: OUTWARD BOUND SINGAPORE


We wrapped up the day with cross-sharing. I had assumed this was part of the routine for OBS instructors, so I was surprised to find out that it was a new addition to their schedules. After every workshop, they would reflect and cross-share with everybody else, to ensure that the day’s learnings were absorbed and to share potential new ways to improve course conduction.

It felt extra special to sit in on these sessions after that. Watching the conception of brand new teaching methods felt more special knowing that the instructors had just gone through a simulation of the lessons themselves.

“We can’t just know the facts,” one instructor shared. “We have to connect with the lessons, so that we can connect with the students and they can be the generation that makes the changes.”

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