Former WRS chief suggests 'un-zoo' as unique attraction

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - The man who founded the Night Safari - a world-first when it opened in 1994 - has another radical idea.

Mr Bernard Harrison revealed yesterday that he has suggested to the Singapore Tourism Board the creation of an "un-zoo", in which visitors can enjoy "random" up-close encounters with trained animals like monkeys and otters.

Such encounters, orchestrated by guides, will be more exciting than seeing animals "behind glass", he said.

He was speaking to more than 100 civil servants, academics and consultants during a lecture at the Ministry of National Development organised by the Centre for Liveable Cities.

The former Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) chief executive later gave the example of zoo visitors seeing the most dangerous snakes in the world kept in enclosures.

"By the fifth one you're saying: 'Let's get out of this place.' It gets boring," the 63-year-old, who left WRS in 2002 and now runs a zoo design consultancy, told The Straits Times. "Then you walk out, and in front of you wriggles a small, green snake. It goes in front of your path, and you say: 'Did you see that?'"

Mr Harrison said that the experience in an "un-zoo" - which if created would also be a world-first - would be managed but without visitors realising it.

It would also be safe, he said, as the wildlife would be tame. Pulau Ubin could be a possible site for locating one, he added.

Last month, it was announced in Parliament that the public will be asked to give their ideas on how Pulau Ubin can be protected.

Even as he held up an "un-zoo" as a creative tourist attraction, during his lecture Mr Harrison panned recent Singapore sights like Gardens by the Bay as too costly to build, and the integrated resorts as uninspired.

He also urged the Singapore Zoo, which he headed for 29 years, to put back ticket discounts for some Singaporeans, which he instituted during his tenure. NTUC members and those holding POSB cards were given 30 per cent to 40 per cent off admission charges, he said.

"There are sections of the population that really can't afford to go to the zoo. The point is they should be... they're the ones who should benefit from this whole green experience," he said. "Whereas the rich ones are probably going off somewhere else."

WRS does offer year-round credit card promotions to its parks only available to Singapore residents, said a WRS spokesman. A full-price ticket to the Zoo currently costs $28.