Of monkeys and mental health: What you missed in Parliament

PHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook, Lianhe Zaobao file

There have been plenty of reports lately about monkeys intruding and wreaking havoc in residential areas.

And the numbers speak for themselves. 

The government has received about 2,500 cases of monkey-related feedback each year from 2017 to June 2022, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee in a written reply to Parliament yesterday (Aug 2), responding to a question by Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng. 

This feedback included cases of intrusions and monkey attacks, Lee shared. This works out to an average of almost seven such reports made a day. 

Seah had asked where there is an overpopulation of animals such as monkeys and otters in recent years.

Earlier this month, a troop of macaques was seen scaling the walls of a Clementi flat and raiding a kitchen on the fifth floor. 

And on July 22, a bevy of angry otters chased after a jogger at West Coast Park after she reportedly stepped on a pup, Shin Min Daily News reported. 

While Parliament yesterday covered topics such as the welfare of nurses and the figures of new citizens and permanent residents serving National Service, here are three other things that you might have missed. 

1. NParks population control on wildlife is "effective" 

The measures taken by NParks – including population control – have been "effective" in mitigating wildlife intrusions into residential areas, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee yesterday.

Pointing out how there are about 10 otter families in Singapore consisting of about 150 otters and the 2,500 cases of monkey-related feedback each year, Lee shared that NParks is adopting a "science-based approach" to manage the population of wildlife.

Other measures that NParks have implemented include monkey guarding to deter troops of monkeys from entering residential areas, and cordoning off areas with young otter pups to minimise the likelihood of human-wildlife conflict. 

But the root cause of wildlife intrusion is intentional feeding or through improper disposal of food waste, Lee shared. 

Describing how such actions can alter the natural foraging behaviour of wildlife, and cause them to approach and rely on humans for food, he added: "NParks carries out habitat modification such as replacing or harvesting fruit trees to reduce the availability of food sources at macaque hotspots.

"NParks also works closely with other public agencies, grassroots organisations and Town Councils to engage the community on proper refuse management, and to deter illegal wildlife feeding." 

2. Hwa Chong counsellor who presented anti-LGBT content 

The counsellor from Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) who made discriminatory statements against the LGBT community has been suspended from all duties, pending further investigation by the school personnel board.

Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing provided this update in a written reply to Parliament yesterday, after questions from Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa and Jurong GRC MP Xie Yao Quan.

On July 13, a HCI staff member caused a furore after the slides from his sexuality education talk to students contained statements such as how "1 in 15 homosexuals is a paedophile" and "78 per cent of homosexuals have sexually transmitted diseases".

Responding to the Straits Times queries at that time, a spokesperson from HCI said that the counsellor was reprimanded and suspended from giving such lessons.

HCI has been watching out for students who may be affected by the incident, Chan said, adding that those who have concerns and require support are encouraged to approach the school leaders or a trusted adult in school.

The school is also reviewing its processes to ensure alignment with MOE's sexuality education curriculum and guidelines, according to Chan. 

3. No plans to develop another mental health hospital

There are currently "no plans at this juncture" to develop a second psychiatric hospital, according to Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

The written reply to Parliament was a response to MP Dennis Tan's (Hougang) question on whether the authorities would consider establishing a second hospital specialising in mental health if there is an increase in the number of young people seeking help at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in the past year.

While the number of outpatients aged 15 to 35 years old at IMH has increased by 6 per cent in 2021, Ong shared that the Ministry of Health has developed various mental health services catering to youths.

This included mental health support to students in schools, reaching out to at-risk youths in the community and providing them with mental health assessments, as well as linking them to appropriate resources and services for further support.

As for outpatient services for children and youths, Ong said that all acute hospitals and selected public hospitals such as the National University Hospital and Changi General Hospital provides screening for those with psychiatric conditions. 

While the new Alexandra Hospital will also have inpatient beds for acute and sub-acute psychiatric care and rehabilitation, Ong added: "We should understand that not all illnesses, including mental health issues, are always best addressed by an inpatient admission to an acute care hospital."

SINGAPORE HELPLINES

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
  • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
  • Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

chingshijie@asiaone.com