Sunday, 10 June 2012

Singapore’s jungles, MacRitchie’s monkeys and modern ‘homo urbanus’

Almost twenty-five centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, "Man is by nature a social animal." Today, Aristotle may have instead said, "Man is by nature an urban animal."

Singaporeans know too well the travails of urban living. Sometimes it seems there are no 'rural areas' in Singapore - or hardly any. Ironically, one does not have to look very hard to find green spaces. There are many dotted across the island.
MacRitchie's monkeys (photograph: Imran Ahmed)
One such space is MacRitchie Reservoir Park. Originally constructed in 1867, the reservoir was expanded in the 1890s. It was renamed MacRitchie Reservoir in 1907. Presently, the MacRitchie Reservoir Park acts as a green haven in the midst of Singapore's concrete jungle.
Although I have lived in Singapore for over one decade, this was my first trip to MacRitchie Park. Better late than never, I suppose.
A view of MacRitchie Reservoir (photograph: Imran Ahmed)
Perhaps it took me so long because I am the proverbial 'homo urbanus.'
My free time is typically spent wandering aimlessly around Singapore's many shopping malls. Variety is provided by judiciously alternating from the menu of malls available – and visiting a public library from time to time!
Homo urbanus is a species found in large numbers in Singapore.
Surprisingly, there is also a population of monkeys living alongside Singapore's homo urbanus. I came across many of their numbers at MacRitchie.
I saw monkeys pilfering garbage, swinging from trees, enjoying high energy drinks or just sauntering around their playground. MacRitchie is, after all, the monkeys' home ground. Humans are visitors encroaching on their land.
According to the United Nations, more than half the world's population now lives in urban areas. By 2030 the number of people living in cities is expected to grow to almost five billion. These are big numbers – maybe not as large as the US budget deficit but there is nothing trifling about measuring humans in billions.
'Monkey fruits' at MacRitchie (photograph: Imran Ahmed)
Urban sprawl and concrete structures will continue to grow, horizontally and vertically. Singapore, in many ways, is a laboratory case for fitting more and more humans in a limited space, thus making an even stronger case for preserving the many small and large 'MacRitchies' all across this island.
A little piece of green serenity right in my backyard, I will be visiting MacRitchie again soon. Even homo urbanus needs to recharge energies and visit the jungle from time to time.


Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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