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Mandai mega-attraction will appeal to all: WRS

SINGAPORE — An integrated conservation hub, an educational and research destination, as well as a spectacular tourist attraction that caters not just to Singaporeans but also the international crowd. It could also be home to a bird park with one of the biggest walk-in aviaries in the world.

Mandai mega-attraction will appeal to all: WRS

Female giant panda Jia Jia finishes her birthday ‘cake’ presented to her in celebration of her sixth birthday which falls on Sept 3, at the River Safari yesterday, Photo: Ooi Boon Keong

SINGAPORE — An integrated conservation hub, an educational and research destination, as well as a spectacular tourist attraction that caters not just to Singaporeans but also the international crowd. It could also be home to a bird park with one of the biggest walk-in aviaries in the world.

This is the vision that Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) chairman Claire Chiang has for the new mega development planned for the Mandai area. WRS manages the three existing attractions in the area — the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari — as well as the Jurong Bird Park, which may be relocated to Mandai as part of the redevelopment plans announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.

Ms Chiang’s vision of a top-drawer attraction that would appeal to all came as Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said yesterday the focus is on making available public spaces for Singaporeans to enjoy what Mandai has to offer.

Speaking to the media yesterday at a Panda Party at River Safari, Ms Chiang also revealed that an expansion of its three existing attractions in Mandai is necessary, given the high volume of visitors that is affecting visitor experience. For example, during Chinese New Year, daily visitorship numbers for the zoo can hit as high as 15,000, said Ms Chiang, adding that there is also greater efficiency under an integrated attraction.

On the possible relocation of the Bird Park, which was opened in 1971, Ms Chiang said the proposal had been discussed in the past few years. “Every product will need renewal and new ideas,” she said. “My wish is to see possibly one of the biggest walk-in aviaries (in the world) ... the open zoo concept is what won WRS its name.”

On Thursday, Mr Lee had announced during a live television forum that the Mandai area would be redeveloped into an all-encompassing wildlife attraction. Adding that the nature reserves would not be infringed upon, Mr Lee said the Government was mulling over the use of available space around the nature reserves, such as an unused orchid plantation and an old fruit orchard. The developments would create something bigger and better, Mr Lee said.

In a joint statement yesterday, the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Parks Board (NParks) reiterated that the Mandai area has the potential to be developed into a precinct of nature-themed attractions for education and recreation, and green public spaces for Singaporeans to enjoy and appreciate nature. “The STB is still working out development plans for Mandai and will share more information when ready,” it added. NParks will guide the development so it is sustainable for and sensitive to the natural environment, the statement said.

Ms Chiang said WRS is looking at using the development as a research platform to boost exchanges among experts, who can look at issues such as rainforest sustainability and biodiversity. “This is yet another new development that is going to make a mark in the global perspective,” she said. “Surely we are going to take every care to study seriously the host of factors related to safeguarding biodiversity and sustainability.”

The Jurong Bird Park was built at a cost of S$3.5 million more than four decades ago, excluding the price of the land.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Bernard Harrison — former chief executive of WRS who has been credited for helping transform the zoo into being one of the most successful in Asia — said it would be extravagant and unnecessary to relocate the Bird Park. While the attraction could do with an upgrade, a relocation is much more costly, said Mr Harrison, who runs zoo design company Bernard Harrison and Friends. He said: “A bird park is a bird park. People find birds boring, that’s the problem ... How are you going to make the birds more exciting than they are already?”

Responding to Mr Harrison’s comments, Ms Chiang said it was important to innovate and find new ways to attract visitors.

She pointed out that there were also naysayers — citing the high costs — when WRS began creating River Safari. But the attraction has proven to be a success, she said.

Citing hefty entry fees to the zoo, Mr Harrison felt the new development must be geared towards catering for Singaporeans. Public transport to the Mandai area should also be improved, he said.

Speaking on the sidelines of a West Coast community event, Mr Iswaran said yesterday the Government must make sure the new development has a strong attraction for Singaporeans to visit. And then it has to look into augmenting the development to also appeal to tourists.

“I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. But, as the Prime Minister mentioned, the focus is on the public spaces and what can be available in terms of open areas for Singaporeans to enjoy,” he said, adding that it is not only about gated attractions.

Stressing that plans are at a preliminary stage, Mr Iswaran described Mandai as a very special area consisting of existing attractions, the nature reserves and a reservoir. “It has the potential to be enhanced as a nature-themed, eco-friendly kind of precinct that all of us — Singaporean families — can enjoy,” he reiterated. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAURA PHILOMIN

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