We’ve got bad news for Pokemon Go fans who are willing to walk the extra kilometre to catch Pokemons: there might be fewer places for you to play the game soon.

The authorities here have urged the developers of the popular Pokemon Go mobile game to leave the sensitive areas in Singapore’s nature reserves alone.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has asked that Pokestops – the game’s virtual pit stops found in real-world locations – be removed from off-limit areas of three nature reserves.

“This is to avoid situations of Pokemon Go players walking off trails while playing the game, inadvertently trampling the vegetation, disturbing wildlife and causing damage to the environment, and endangering themselves,” said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, NParks’ group director for conservation.

The affected Pokestops are found within the sensitive forest and wetland habitats of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. They are located in off-limit areas where people should not be entering in the first place. Under the Parks and Trees Act, it is an offence to enter any part of a nature reserve except through designated trails.

NParks had appealed to game developer Niantic to have the Pokestops removed in August, when the game was launched here. But a quick check by The Straits Times yesterday showed they were still there.

Mr Wong said NParks is aware that more people are visiting Singapore’s nature reserves where Pokestops are located. Players of the game visit such stops, usually located at places of interest or landmarks, to obtain items such as Poke Balls, which can be used to catch virtual monsters called Pokemon.

A Niantic spokesman said: “We cannot confirm the status of removal requests for specific Pokestop and gym locations in Pokemon Go, but are moving quickly to review and address all such requests.”

There are four nature reserves in Singapore, but wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai noted that the sensitive areas of Labrador Nature Reserve are already inaccessible.

He said NParks made an “excellent decision”, adding that people have been spotted venturing off-trail to catch Pokemon.

“It is important to balance recreation with biodiversity in the nature reserves. Even before Pokemon Go, people used to wander off-trail into these sensitive areas,” he said. “Many rare animals roost and breed in these special core areas, and disturbance may disrupt their natural behaviour and even drive them onto the roads, where they end up as roadkill.”

Pokemon Go players said it was a good idea to remove the Pokestops from nature reserves.

Customer service officer Ryan Logarta, 39, said: “They shouldn’t be in protected areas. Pokemon can be caught in public areas anyway.”

Mr T.S. Teo, 54, who is between jobs, said the move could help protect individuals too. “There are no designated trails in there, and people could get lost,” he said.

NParks is not the first to ask to have Pokestops removed. The former concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, now a museum, had asked to be withdrawn from the game, as has the village of Kijkduin in the Netherlands, whose protected beaches have become flooded with Pokemon Go players.

Image: Lee Chee Keong / 123RF.com
Text: Audrey Tan / The Straits Times / October 2016
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For more stories on Pokemon Go, read Singaporeans, Meet Our Country’s First Legit Pokemon Master and What Your Choice Of Buddy On Pokemon Go Says About You.