Singaporeans often complain about the lack of things to do in the city-state, but then they don’t take advantage of what is here. Expats and locals alike will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for nature holidays to nearby countries when they haven’t even explored their own backyards. I decided to join a friend and check out this “backyard” at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. This area is featured in tourist guidebooks, but our cab driver’s lack of knowledge about its location reinforced how little attention Singaporeans pay it. Eventually, after a consultation of the website and a call to the cab company, we wound our way to the northwest part of the island, well off the beaten path. On the way, we had a great view of Johor Bahru (JB to locals), the Malaysian city just across the Straits of Johor from Singapore (in fact, my friend’s cell phone service switched over to a Malaysian provider while we were at the reserve).
The reserve features several paths that wind back into the mangrove and wetland, and it is very well done. It really offers a complete escape from the city; the only sounds are those of the animals and insects. We weren’t very far up the path when we spied our first reptile, a beautiful golden-red lizard about six inches long. I was able to get pretty close before he took off. But, that was just the start. A few metres later, we spied a monitor lizard. Unlike his cousin, the Komodo Dragon, the monitor lizard shies away from humans, and this one escaped into the bush. At that point, the path branched out to a pond-side observation deck, where we spied a turtle enjoying himself, somewhat oblivious to the two large monitor lizards cooling themselves in the water. The turtle swam towards one of the lizards but recognized something was about to go awry just before he got too close and reversed course. While we were watching this, the original monitor reappeared, taking up a position at the entrance to the observation deck. Were these guys cornering us like the raptors in Jurassic Park? Turns out, no, as the first lizard made a quick exit as we approached again.
We ran into an Aussie who was trying to photograph birds from a lookout tower, but he said the migratory birds were all gone for the season. We asked about crocodiles, because there are croc warning signs all over the reserve, but he said he had only seen one in his entire time coming to the reserve, and it was near the entrance at the Visitors Center (comforting thought). Alas, his comments turned out to be prophetic, as we didn’t see any trace of a crocodile (or a snake, as my friend really wanted to see) the rest of the time. We did see another large monitor lizard that looked like it had recently eaten a small dog or large cat (or both), but no other big reptiles. And we happened upon a pack of semi-wild dogs. Apparently, they belong to several farmers that live just off the reserve, and they run free within the park. We had heard them growling from across the river, but all of the sudden they emerged from the trees, running out into the shallow water to chase fish. There were about 20 of them, and after they had checked out the fish, I guess they decided it was time to head to the other shore, so they all just plunged in and swam the thirty metres or so to the other side (see picture). And then they disappeared into the woods again.
We did see several interesting fish and birds, including the beautifully-colored Kingfisher (bird) and the rather odd-looking Mudskipper. This is a fish that swims with its bug eyes sticking out of the water. It can actually crawl across land, and we saw several propelling themselves with their fins across the mud in search of food. They eat all kinds of things, even the little black crabs that live in the mud (they were everywhere). They looked like something crawling from the primordial swamp millions of years ago.
While the reserve is beautiful, its remote location means that you can’t get a cab to come get you. So, we had to walk through the Kranji Nature Trail, an adjacent nature area, to catch a bus, which took us to an MRT in an area I had never seen. I am not sure what was more of an adventure, the reserve and its roaming reptiles, or the trips to and from the reserve.