Singaporean Creatures: Histories of Humans and Other Animals in the Garden City | Leonardo/ISASTwith Arizona State University

Singaporean Creatures: Histories of Humans and Other Animals in the Garden City

Singaporean Creatures: Histories of Humans and Other Animals in the Garden City
by Timothy P. Barnard, Editor

National University of Singapore Press, Singapore, 2024
288 pp., illus. 35 b/w. Paper, $36SGD
ISBN: 978-981-325-238-7.

Reviewed by: 
Mike Leggett
June 2024

Attempting to redress the ecological damage done to the islands known as Singapore goes back to late colonial times; more recently, contemporary climate change has affected the ability of the biodiversity of the region to flourish as it had done for millennia. In the 1960s, the new nation state began to emerge from the colonial yolk, adopting many of the technologies and standards of the Western world to advance the needs of a once rural population becoming citizens of a world hub for the Southeast Asia group of countries. To encourage the process of urbanisation, from the kampong to a city in three decades, parts of the natural world, including mosquitoes’ monkeys and crocodiles, with which people were familiar, were planned into the new development of a city that was intended to become a business and trade hub. Plantings of selected trees and shrubs and the encouragement of bird breeding, with exhibitions and competitions, particularly for songbirds, thereby maintaining a cultural tradition for the new citizens as a means of inducing the acceptance of the new life. Programs were rapidly developed to produce food from available land and sea, including the breeding of native varieties of fish to be kept in tanks close to domestic areas. Sadly, for the scientists, the fish did not meet the Singaporeans' famous standards for cuisine.

The volume documents how multidisciplinary research preceded many of the initiatives pursued with resourcing and a technocratic resolve that gave the government (along with conservative law reform), an authoritarian reputation, which became softened by outcomes like the building close to the city centre of a massive wildlife park, an aquarium, and a zoo, both enthusiastically supported by the population. One of the researchers, a contributor, ChooRuizhi, contributes a case-study of this complex project which decades later becomes a key attraction for the developing tourist industries. Curiously, no reference is made to the famous enclosed jungle simulacra of 'natural flora', established in the middle of Changhi, one of the world's busiest airports and only glimpsed from the airport train speeding between terminals. This is a thorough account of multidisciplinary research in the post-colonial world and capitalist social engineering on a grand scale. Though the development of the city's reputable arts industries is not covered, there is an extensive bibliography.