Singapore goes by many names: Lion City, Garden City or the affectionately coined term ‘the little red dot’. These terms not only define Singapore for the kind of city it is, but also highlights the multi-faceted elements you can find on this island. And while we’re known for our marvelous skyscrapers and urban architecture, Singapore has always been a clean and green city at heart, perfect for a relaxing getaway.

“We may not have spectacular mountain ranges, mighty rivers or vast areas of pristine rainforest, but what we do have is still fascinating in its own right, and worth our appreciation and protection.”

As conservationist Ivan Kwan so perfectly describes, there is much flora and fauna to be appreciated in Singapore — some entirely unique to the country! Obsessed with nature documentaries since young, Ivan’s excitement for wildlife shines when he talks about his work at Nature Adventures SG. In this article, he brings us deep into the wilderness of Singapore and recommends some of his favourite nature spots.

Ivan Kwan trekking through Lower Peirce Reservoir

Ivan believes he can help develop an appreciation for nature by creating positive and educational experiences through his guided tours

Some people think of Singapore as an urban society while others think of it as a garden city. How would you describe Singapore as a nature-lover?

Honestly, Singapore has lost a lot of its original habitats: a staggering proportion of our rainforests, mangroves, coral reefs, and other ecosystems were lost over the course of 200 years. Yet despite all this, nature has shown its resilience.

View from the boardwalk at Lower Peirce Reservoir

Lower Peirce Reservoir is Singapore’s second-oldest reservoir, which was planned as an extension of the first reservoir (MacRitchie)

You have coral reefs growing along the seawalls of East Coast Park, sea turtles and dolphins in the Southern Islands, otters in Marina Bay, hawks nesting in carparks in high-rise housing estates, and so much more. We may have lost some, but there is still a lot of natural heritage here that we can protect.

What is so unique about Singapore’s flora and fauna?

Did you know, Singapore actually has plants and animals that can only be found here. For example, a recently-discovered type of wild ginger that grows only in the Central Catchment Nature; or three species of small freshwater crabs only known from streams and swamps in our forests. We’re also still making new discoveries all the time! We found a new species of frog in our forests, and a species of cricket in the mangroves of Pasir Ris Park that’s completely new to science.

There’s still so much we don’t know about our biodiversity!
Close up on a bunch of Ixora, aka Honeysuckle

Did you know Ixora, also known as Honeysuckle, is actually edible?

Mother and baby monkeys perched on a signpost

Monkeys are not an uncommon sight in Singapore, especially in forested areas like Lower Peirce and Bukit Timah

Best part is, it’s so accessible. No matter where you live or work, you’re less than an hour away from a park, nature reserve, or some green space.

So how can we can play a part in conserving our environment too?

Through lifestyle changes, speaking up for the protection of our wildlife and green spaces, or even becoming actively involved in conservation yourself! Most importantly, it’s to inculcate a love for nature from young.

There’s a concept called biophilia—an idea that all human beings are innately attracted to the natural world.

By exposing youths to nature through guided walks, social media and exhibitions, I hope to play a part in opening their eyes, encouraging them to see Singapore in a new light, and motivating them to become advocates for conservation too.

Landscape at Lower Peirce Reservoir

Yes, you can enjoy forested views like this even in urban Singapore

What are some of your favourite nature spots to visit in the country?

For families with young children:

Pasir Ris Park. There’s a small patch of mangroves with boardwalks where you can spot mudskippers, crabs, and water snakes without getting your feet muddy. There’s a large nesting colony of grey herons in the park and a family of spotted wood owls that frequently appear too.

Bukit Batok Nature Park is also a great place to spot squirrels, monkeys, and monitor lizards. The park is open at night, so for families who don't mind visiting after dark, you might even encounter nocturnal creatures such as colugos, owls, frogs. If you’re really lucky, you might even come across a pangolin!

 

Monitor lizard found in Bukit Timah Nature Park

Fun fact: A full-grown monitor lizard can weigh up to 91kg!

For groups travelling with seniors:

Tampines Eco Green is a green oasis that is turning out to be a great place for birdwatching. The trails may be quite long, but there are several spots where people can rest in the shade. Its flat ground makes it easier for seniors too.

For active, sporty young adults:

Places like Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges come to mind. The terrain can be challenging, but you can hike from Bukit Panjang to Mandai, or even Bukit Timah to MacRitchie Reservoir if you’re up for it! Along the way, you might also come across monkeys, squirrels and birds foraging among the trees, or lizards and snakes basking along the path.

Canopy walkway at the Southern Ridges

Hike along the Canopy Walkway at the Southern Ridges and marvel at the view from above-ground

For a quick break from the city:

Singapore Botanic Gardens! Creatures like squirrels and lizards are easily seen, while their ponds support many different species of frogs and dragonflies—not to mention ducks! For those who only have enough time for a morning stroll, this is one of the best places to experience Singapore’s urban biodiversity.

If you really want to go to the outskirts of the city, Labrador Nature Reserve protects one of our last fragments of coastal forest on the mainland. At the mangroves along the boardwalk at the Berlayer Creek nearby, you’ll also spot mudskippers, monitor lizards, and other wildlife!

Waves crashing against rocks at Labrador Jetty

Head to Labrador Jetty to catch the amazing seaside view too

For couples in search of a romantic spot:

It might seem clichéd, but Gardens by the Bay is a great spot for couples. The view is spectacular, the various gardens are beautiful, and they are especially attractive to all sorts of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. You might even cross paths with the family of otters that have made Marina Bay their home!

A less conventional place to visit would be Coney Island, or the area around Lorong Halus. These spots have really nice scenery, lots of wildlife and can be really romantic as you cycle along the paths at sunset!

Overview of Lorong Halus bridge

Enjoy a romantic stroll with your better half along the river at Lorong Halus

Safe to say, Singapore may be a ‘little red dot’ but our biodiversity sure is large! Some of the wildlife you might stumble across can appear intimidating, but as Ivan says, “despite their often negative reputation, lots of these animals are simply misunderstood, and have important roles to play in our ecosystems”.

So hop on the next flight to tropical Singapore and go on a different kind of safari tour. In fact, you can join Ivan for a guided tour or arrange a private excursion with him through his website. At the end of the day, we all have a part to play in keeping our earth pink (or green) in health—and who says saving the world can’t be fun?

This is the fourth article of our ‘Live Like a Local’ series featuring Singaporeans and their authentic stories. Read other Singaporeans’ stories here, here and here.