Animals Crossing Eco-Link: Safe Passage for Creatures Over Busy Highway

A baby Sunda pangolin holds onto its mother’s tail. These endangered animals produce only one offspring a year; twin births are rare. PHOTO: ST FILE

A baby Sunda pangolin holds onto its mother’s tail. These endangered animals produce only one offspring a year; twin births are rare. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Sunda pangolin’s totter is slightly absurd. With its foreclaws hanging just off the ground, it looks like a miniature T-rex as it ambles along on its hind legs.

The scaly mammal’s formidable foreclaws are built not for walking, but to rip open ant hills and termite nests.

When in danger, it may curl into a ball, relying on its armour of scales to protect its conical head and delicate underbelly.

But that armour is no protection against cars travelling at high speed.

Hunched close to the ground, the pangolin is hard for any driver to spot on the road. If it is caught in the headlights of a vehicle, the shy creature may freeze; and even when fleeing, it can only rev up to a man’s jogging pace.

An average of two a year have been found dead on major roads around the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves from 1994 to 2014, the National Parks’ Board (NParks) said. That may not seem a lot – until one realises that the total number of wild Sunda pangolins in Singapore may be just more than 50.

Classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, it is said to be the most trafficked mammal in the world.

No dead pangolins, however, have been found on major roads near the reserves from April 2014 to October 2015.

NParks believes that instead of trying to cross the highways, they have found a passage of their own: Pangolins have been using the Eco-Link@BKE to travel between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The 62m-long wildlife link is the first purpose-built bridge for wildlife in South-east Asia. It can be seen by motorists on the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) about 600m north of Rifle Range Road.

The bridge, which was built just for animals, connects the 163ha Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which is Singapore’s largest at more than 2,000ha.

The two nature reserves were once connected, until the BKE was built in 1986.

Close to 30 years later, the connection between the two has been revived.

To find out if animals are using the eco-link, camera traps were set up in both nature reserves and the link to monitor the animals there. The cameras, which come with motion sensors, are triggered when animals move past them.

Animals like the pangolin, palm civet and squirrels have been caught on the cameras placed on the link.

For about a year now, eight camera traps on the wildlife crossing have recorded footage of pangolins and other animals traversing the eco-link.

Although the exact number of crossings is not known, at least one pangolin crossing has been spotted a month since October 2014.

Other studies, using tagging and sound recordings, found that birds and bats have also been using it.

Some winged animals need the link to cross, wildlife experts say, as the six-lane BKE is too wide to ford even for those which can fly.

Now, humans can also take a walk on the wildlife link which was previously closed to the public to minimise disturbance to the animals. In the two years since it was completed, the vegetation has grown dense enough to mask occasional human incursions.

On Nov 21, 2015, the first members of the public were allowed a glimpse of the link on guided tours conducted by NParks.

Take a virtual tour of the wildlife link with us.