Buffer zones should be part of Mandai redevelopment, say green groups

Xue Jianyue Today Online 6 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — In response to the Government’s plans to redevelop Mandai, nature groups yesterday called for buffer zones to be created between any future man-made and existing forest areas and for the minimisation of any impact on the ecosystem.

The groups also welcomed the Government’s decision to seek their advice on its plans for the area, which is currently home to the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and the River Safari.

In a joint statement yesterday, the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Parks Board (NParks) said the latter will guide the development so it is sustainable for and sensitive to the natural environment.

The statement reiterated that views from nature groups would be sought to ensure the sustainable development of the area.

It added: “The development should not encroach on the nature reserves and reservoirs. An Environmental Impact Assessment will need to be undertaken to avoid or mitigate any impact of the development on the nature reserves and reservoirs. Through sensitive design and management, the development could potentially strengthen and enhance the nature reserves.”

While he noted that more details had yet to be revealed, Mr Tay Kae Fong, president of the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), said any redevelopment should “work with the land”, which meant taking time to study the ecology of the forests that surround the new attraction and minimising the number of trees that would need to be cut.

“What I don’t want to see is them bulldozing the entire place down, (leaving a) blank canvas, and then they start doing planting and manicuring the whole place because they want it to be grand. I’m hoping they would take into account what’s already there,” said Mr Tay.

To reduce any adverse impact on the animal wildlife there, nature groups have called for buffer zones to be set up along the forest edge to separate it from man-made infrastructure.

Nature Trekker founder Ben Lee said this was necessary, as the redevelopment would increase road traffic in Mandai significantly.

Passing traffic could kill animals such as the macaque monkeys, which dwell in the periphery of the forests, said Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) founder Louis Ng, who had previously called for such buffers to be created in the Dairy Farm area.

He said the authorities have approached ACRES on two occasions since the start of the year and he hoped they would continue to do so.

As part of the redevelopment plans, the Jurong Bird Park could be relocated to Mandai.

Mr Ng said the bird park’s relocation presented an opportunity to redesign the park and replace outdated small cages with larger enclosures. “It’s moving in the right direction. A lot of new enclosures are already free-ranging for the birds, whereas the old ones are all cages. We are hopeful that as they move and develop a new bird park, they will follow and move along what they have already been doing to more free-ranging enclosures.”

Mandai mega-attraction will appeal to all: WRS
Wildlife Reserves unveils vision of integrated hub that boosts conservation, education efforts
Joy Fang Today Online 6 Sep 14;

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

Mandai makeover of zoo; Bird Park could be there too
Audrey Tan and Charissa Yong The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Sep 14;

Get ready for the massive Mandai makeover. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed last night that the leafy northern swathe of Singapore will be transformed with a "bigger, better zoo", and even Jurong Bird Park could migrate to Mandai.

The 41-year-old zoo will be overhauled and could expand to take up available land next to it. This will significantly enlarge its present 26ha plot, which is about the size of 23 football fields.

The neighbouring space now houses an old orchid plantation and an old fruit orchard.

The plans should start coming together soon and could be rolled out by as early as 2020.

"You want something which is green, you want something which improves on what is there, you want something which will enhance the nature reserves and not infringe into the nature reserves. And I think we have some interesting ideas," he said.

"By 2020, we should see something, and beyond that, we should have even more. This is not so complicated to do as moving Paya Lebar Airbase to Changi. So, within the next 10 years, we should have quite a lot to see."

He also said that the Bird Park could be moved from its current 20ha site to Mandai: "The Bird Park is all by itself down in Jurong. Why not move it to where the zoo is?"

Asked if its iconic waterfall would move too, he replied: "I think they (the planners) have something in mind which is even more spectacular than the waterfall," he said, without wanting to reveal more details.

He was speaking at a live television forum titled Ask the Prime Minister, in which he fielded wide-ranging questions, from hot-button issues on retirement adequacies and paper qualifications to light-hearted takes such as which superhero he would like to be. The answer: Superman.

On plans for Mandai, The Straits Times has learnt that a fifth zoo - on top of the current zoo, River Safari, Night Safari and Bird Park - is on the cards.

Among the ideas being considered for it: A jungle adventure theme and suspension bridges built through a tree canopy for visitors to enjoy.

The Mandai makeover is just one of several big redevelopment plans Mr Lee has announced over the past year, such as for Paya Lebar and Jurong.

He said that the new nature area in Mandai will also have areas for the public to relax for free, much like Marina Bay's Gardens by the Bay. "You also have public areas where you can wander around and you can go and take wedding pictures, and you can enjoy the waterfront and watch the sunset on Upper Seletar Reservoir. I think it can be a very beautiful, very nice place."

The redevelopment will be done in a way which preserves the environment and enhances the current nature reserve in the area, he said. The nature reserve itself - known as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve - is Singapore's largest, occupying over 2,000ha of forest cover.

Mr Lee added that the authorities have been talking to some nature groups: "I am sure that as they understand what is happening, they will help us to refine and to improve the scheme."

His announcement drew a cautious reaction from the green community, many of whom acknowledged that it was an "ambitious plan".

Some praised the move as one that would create an impressive nature hub, while others feared the loss of biodiversity.

Mr Jose Raymond, chief executive of the Singapore Environment Council, said: "The plan to create a nature reserve in the Mandai area... will definitely bring Singaporeans closer to nature and biodiversity."

But lobbyist groups, such as the Nature Society (Singapore), said existing biodiversity could be at stake, and called for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment.

But Professor Leo Tan, director of special projects at the National University of Singapore's Science faculty, noted that the areas planned for redevelopment are on land already in use. He is confident that "care will be taken to ensure the green aura of the place is maintained".