Otters were nowhere to be seen when I waddled along the promenade that links Marina Bay Sands to the Gardens by the Bay last Friday, with faint, foolish hopes of spotting the resident pack or at the very least stepping over a spraint or two. The reservoir formed by the damming of an estuarine basin may offer wayward mustelids a dubious refuge, but its bare expanse is too bleak for most waterfowl, which prefer the marshy reaches of a civilised wetlands where one can suck on a skewer in between potshots at waders and warblers. There is enough prey in the bay to satisfy lutrine appetites, though, and buoys and bulkheads aplenty where grey and striated herons can fish. White-winged terns have also flocked to the city's southern reaches to float over grey-brown waters and glean morsels from the water surface.
A wall of bromeliads, broken by the odd pandan or palm, lines the path by two glass domes in which the climate is controlled and, in one, maintained at a festive chill. Their prickly foliage – barbs, spines, thorns and hooks in a rosette of fleshy blades – keeps curious visitors and wayward children from a slippery slope into the spoils of three tamed rivers. The Americans, like their human counterparts, arrived bearing gifts of dubious value: a population of brown anoles that probably survived passage over the Pacific as eggs or neonates in the warm, cosy axils of the chosen cultivars.
Careless visitors to the park, who fail to be faithful to their mobile devices or who find nothing worse than a garden that's merely clean and green, may notice in the vegetation small, brownish tetrapods, larger than typical house geckos but nowhere near the bulk of local 'chameleons', with streamlined heads and limbs that end in long, slender digits. The biggest and darkest of these lizards tend to cling head-down from small trunks, flower spikes or even utility poles, with their throats exposed; every other moment, a flap of bright, orange unfolds to strike fear in nearby rivals and inflame the passions of a lurking dame. These males continue to display their necked crests and perform accompanying push-ups and head bobs even when observers approach at close range, but most hop or scamper off when the going gets too tough for comfort. Juveniles and females prefer the security of lower clumps and sport dorsal stripes that distract and disconcert, creating the impression of a beast that is not quite as small, or sharp, as it appears to be.
Changeable lizards also maintain look-outs on the waterfront, and seem to have held their ground against their neotropical interlopers. Two half-grown moggies, visible only from the upper foyer of the domes, negotiate their way through the succulent maze, while a pair of white-bellied sea eagles glide in from the straits to circle and bank over a flyer that never really took off but still rolls a positive spin. The anoles have fared slightly better, with a slow expansion in range beyond their artificial turf, and will find plenty of fans in the birds, snakes and cats that hunt by the bay. But this invasion by stalk and sheath, via shipments of fallen talents, will find little else to bar its way on a land reclaimed, a paradise for strangers in a grave new world with few foes in sight and fine tails to tell.