It is hard to picture a rain forest in the midst of urban surroundings, yet this is the case of Bukit Timah. Located just 12 kilometers away from Singapore’s city center, this 163 hectares nature reserve is known for its rich diversity of native flora and fauna, the country’s highest hill, and its dipterocarp forest.
In 1883, Bukit Timah was one of the fourteen forests reserves to be first founded in Singapore. According to Gardens Superintendent of the time, Nathaniel Cantley, this area represented “the best forests that remained in the (Straits) Settlement”. Nonetheless, around two thirds of it was deforested and covered with grass, fern or brushwood. This encouraged a series of tree planting efforts, which lead to about 120 acres of reforested area by 1886.
An endeavor to protect this territory, especially from development and illegal woodcutting, continued until it was further safeguarded with the passing of the Nature Reserve Ordinance in 1951 and Nature Reserves Act in 1955. These turning points highlighted the importance of propagating, protecting, and preserving the country’s indigenous fauna and flora.
With the formation of a new National Parks board in 1990, the size of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was doubled to meet its current expanse.
Sightings of rare species
Although Bukit Timah represents a mere 0.2% of Singapore’s total area, it is estimated that at least 40% of the country’s native flora and fauna resides within its boundaries.
Sightings of Crab-eating Macaques are fairly frequent, but species such as the critically endangered Singapore Freshwater Crab, the curious-looking Sunda Flying Lemur, and beautiful Asian-Fairy Bluebird can also be occasionally observed. The forest also homes nationally endangered tree and plant species such as the Mock Durian, Kerinting, and Six-stemmed Sonerila.
The Bukit Timah Hill
Singapore’s highest hill, Bukit Timah, culminates at a 163.6 meter elevation. The large presence of granite in its grounds saw the appearance of several quarries between 1900 and 1920, and it was until 1990 that Hindhede Quarry, one of the most harmful to the nature reserve, stopped operating. Constructions such as Singapore Harbor and the Johor-Singapore Causeway required granite from Bukit Timah to be completed.
The reserve offers a series of easy to follow routes and biking trails in order to climb, or go around, the hill’s summit.
Remainings of a primary forest
Experts have estimated that around 82% of Singapore’s original vegetation would have consisted of dryland dipterocarp forest, which is the equivalent to approximately 442 km2. Now, as little as 0.43% or 1.92 km2 of such forest remains in its primary state, and around 20% is found in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The rest are found as patches distributed within the neighboring Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
This type of forests are unique since they exclusively appear at zones found between 300 and 762 meters of elevation. At the moment, the dipterocarp forest of Bukit Timah along with the Mukah Head at Penang National Park in Malaysia are the only ones that are located within legally protected areas.
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