SINGAPORE: With its existing wildlife attractions, the Mandai area could be redeveloped into a precinct for nature-themed attractions for education and recreation, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and National Parks Board (NParks) said. Both agencies released a joint statement on Friday (Sep 5), a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a forum on Channel NewsAsia that a “bigger and better” Mandai zoo is in the works, as part of a larger makeover of Mandai that could happen by 2020.
A joint statement from both agencies on Friday (Sep 5) said STB is still working on development plans and will share more information when ready.
Currently, Mandai is not only home to the Singapore Zoo, but the recently opened River Safari and the Night Safari as well. Mr Lee said an old orchid farm and orchard could be used for the zoo’s extension. One idea from the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA) is to create a resort immersed in nature, and turn Mandai into a place that could boost tourism.
Said ASA chairman Kevin Cheong: “We should not look at the Mandai area as just a place to visit. It should be a must-see, must-stay, and stay overnight. People can stay, live in nature for two or three days and that can prolong the length of their stay in Singapore. That would generate repeat visitorship to other precincts in Singapore.”
Mr Cheong added the redeveloped Mandai should not just cater to tourists, but Singaporeans as well. “When I say wildlife resorts, I don’t mean a five-star resort, I don’t mean living it up in luxury, I mean going back to nature. Could it be staying in a ‘kampung’? Could it be in a longhouse? Through social media, our residents become not just visitors, but advocates for nature, advocates for our attractions, telling their friends from overseas to visit Singapore and experience their favourite parts of Singapore. That is true tourism.”
Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said various Government agencies have been studying how the area can be enhanced as an entire precinct, in ways that preserve Mandai’s natural charm. “It’s not just about gated attractions such as the Zoo or the Night Safari. It is also about creating public spaces, green spaces, that more Singaporeans can enjoy.There is a lot of potential for that in the area, by virtue of the fact that it is contiguous with the reservoir and the natural setting that it has.”
Hospitality and tourism management lecturer Shirley Tee, who teaches at Nanyang Polytechnic, said activities involving nature are becoming popular. “Because of the stress of life that everybody has now, there is this need to escape from your daily routine, go back to nature and let your mind relax and be at peace. That is something I think a lot of tourists would look forward to – a place where you have enjoyment, but can also be relaxed,” she said.
Prime Minister Lee had said the Mandai development will be green and enhance the existing nature reserve without infringing it. He also mentioned ongoing talks with nature groups that are expected to help improve and refine the plans for the area.
The Nature Society (Singapore) said it was consulted about a month ago, though it noted that the history of the project goes back a few years. “There was a large STB-organised consultation in 2012 and an earlier one in 2007. There has been a long history of engagement with stakeholders,” said Nature Society president Shawn Lum. “The earlier engagement, consultation, envisioning activities that I was privileged to be part of, were mainly kind of scoping out what would an appropriate, nature-friendly, sustainable attraction be for this area, given its proximity to the zoo and so on.”
While the group is concerned about the impact the development will have on the environment and wildlife, it hopes a middle ground can be found. “What we can’t sugarcoat is we will lose habitat,” said Dr Lum. “But in terms of the net benefits of the whole project, in terms of changing perceptions towards nature, getting kids excited about wildlife, increasing the people’s sense of wonderment at nature, if these things can all be accomplished and the thing will synergise existing attractions and existing NGO efforts, it could be something quite special.”
NParks said it will guide the development so that it is sustainable and sensitive to the natural environment. An Environmental Impact Assessment will also be done to avoid or mitigate any impact on the nature reserves and reservoirs.
THE “BIGGER AND BETTER” ZOO
Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) – the holding company of Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, River Safari and Singapore Zoo – said the planned expansion of the zoo will focus on its mission of conservation, biodiversity and maintaining the area’s environmental sustainability.
Speaking to reporters at a party to celebrate the birthday of pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia, WRS chairman Claire Chiang said: “Edutainment has always been our mission and I think this is one opportunity to create a Singapore with that focus. With that sort of exchange among experts and with all our biodiversity experts in the region, this is yet another new development that is going to make a mark in the global perspective on sustainability.”