Red junglefowl spotted at Sin Ming in June 2019. (Image by Terry Xu)

Birds saved by Sin Ming residents – residents say its red junglefowl, authorities disagree

Residents of Sin Ming Court decided to take fate into their hands this time and voted to allow the red junglefowl in the area to continue roaming free.

Residents in that corner of Bishan didn’t want the fowls removed from the estate despite complaints of noise caused by the birds. This is a different outcome to what happened back in 2017 when authorities resorted to culling the resident birds after receiving multiple complaints.

A poll was conducted by the Thomson Sin Ming Court residents’ committee (RC) following the recent noise complaints from residents pertaining to the fowls. Residents could either let the authorities relocated the free-roaming fowls or leave them alone. No information was given on where the wild birds would be relocated to.

Over 90% out of more than 1,000 residents voted to leave them alone. Submitting their responses to the RC in a voluntary polled that closed on 31 May, residents decided to keep their feathery friends around.

Straits Times reported that they saw more than a dozen of these wild birds within the Sin Ming Court estate on a visit to the neighbourhood about two weeks ago.

Most residents told ST that the birds do not bother them but the early morning crowing did ruffle some feathers. An unnamed resident who had voted for relocation said the birds’ 4am calls would wake her light-sleeping helper.

“When I first moved here, I actually liked the kampung feel,” the 40-year-old homemaker said, describing the feeling she got with the fowls running free. But if it bothers one of my family members, (the birds) would have to go,” she told ST.

On the other hand, a Mr John Lee who did not vote in the poll said that the birds added a distinctness to the estate.

“I do hear the crowing in the morning, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s a sound of nature,” said the 66-year-old taxi driver, who has lived in the estate for more than 10 years.

Though sometimes difficult to tell apart at first glance, red junglefowl are the wild relative of the domestic chicken. These wild birds are larger than the domestic variety and have grey legs compared to the standard yellow legs of regular chickens.

The red junglefowl is actually native to Singapore and is considered an endangered species as its population has been dwindling since the 1980s. Habitat loss, poaching, and interbreeding with the domestic variety has led to a decline in their numbers. While these birds are usually found on Pulau Ubin and in the western catchment area near Lim Chu Kang, it appears they’ve been spotted making a home in other parts of Singapore in recent years.

Group director of community and animal management at the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) – a cluster of the National Parks Board – told ST that AVS employs a science-based approach in management free-range poultry.

The AVS studies movement and roosting patterns, puts in place measures such as removal of food sources by humans, and assess the risks that the birds might pose to public health.

She said, “The community can help mitigate human-animal interaction issues with free-ranging chickens and other birds by not feeding them or leaving food scraps, which would attract them.”

Touching on the consultative approach that the authorities adopted in response to complaints of noise by residents, National University of Singapore biology lecturer N Sivasothi welcomes the method and suggests that steps could be taken to understand the extent of feeding as well, which typically increases population levels.

“As we see the fruit of greening and connecting our urban environments, animals will be seen more often, and education about co-existence is important to introduce to communities which have had little contact with nature in the past.

“This also applies to those who feed wildlife deliberately or accidentally,” he said.

Fowl me once, fowl me twice

This isn’t the first time on the island we’ve heard complaints about our fowl friends. In January 2017, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) put down 24 chickens in Sin Ming following over 20 resident complaints of noise. The move sparked an outcry across Singapore, with people questioning the need for such drastic measures against relatively harmless animals and whether those birds were in fact the endangered red junglefowls instead of domestic chickens.

Later in April, another culling was done, this time in the Sungei Api Api area in Pasir Ris. A flock of 10 birds or more were culled down to just two or three. Residents were furious that AVA did the culling without even informing or consulting the residents. Again, residents noted that those were the endangered native variety.

During a parliamentary session on 2 February 2017 on the incident at Sin Ming, Nee Soon MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang asked the Minister of State for National Development Dr Koh Poh Koon about the authorities’ methods in dealing with these creatures.

Specifically, he questioned Dr Koh’s description of the animals as ‘chickens’.

Dr Koh said, “Some have suggested that the chickens could be relocated to the wild, for example, in places like in Pulau Ubin or other forested areas. But the chickens in Sin Ming and in most of our urban settings are highly unlikely to be of native stock and are therefore different from our indigenous breed of Red Junglefowl, which is an endangered species known to occur only in Pulau Ubin and the Western Catchment area. ”

Mr Ng, on the other hand, pointed out, “I have seen the photographs of the chickens or some of them at Sin Ming Avenue. They are indeed a Red Junglefowl. There are two birds there: the domestic chickens and the Red Junglefowl. Just to clarify because AVA had mentioned earlier that the free-ranging chickens seen on mainland Singapore are not the Red Junglefowl. That statement is inaccurate.”

In response, Dr Koh suggested that experts could be engaged and genetic studies could be done to determine the exact species of the fowls in question.

The thing is, the ST article reporting on the two incidents in 2017 also used the term ‘red junglefowl’ to describe the birds that were culled, noting that the residents in those areas were certain of the species and pointed out the distinctive grey legs as proof.

So did Dr Koh misrepresent the issue in parliament and to the general public when he continued to refer to the birds as chickens? And what is the argument for culling those animals without confident confirmation that they were actually domestic chickens and not red junglefowls?