Bird Park to cover up show venue at new home to curb escapes

Audrey Tan Straits Times 11 Oct 17;

When the Bird Park moves to Mandai from its current Jurong premises by 2020, it will no longer have an open amphitheatre.

Instead, bird shows will be conducted in a mesh-covered amphitheatre, The Straits Times has learnt.

The mesh will prevent show birds from escaping into the sensitive habitats in the neighbouring Central Catchment Nature Reserve and disrupting the ecological balance there. It will also reduce the potential for conflict or aggression between show birds and native wild birds in the reserve over territory, for example.

The decision was made after consultations between developer Mandai Park Holdings (MPH), scientific experts and nature enthusiasts.

By 2023, visitors to the Mandai area will be able to visit the relocated Bird Park and new Rainforest Park, on top of the existing trio of attractions there: the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari.

An earlier environmental report had indicated that all birds within the new Bird Park, including show birds in the amphitheatre, should be contained within meshed aviaries. A key concern was the risk of birds escaping.

However, as the current Jurong Bird Park has an open amphitheatre, MPH sought to recreate the visitor experience in Mandai by coming up with strategies to address the risk of show birds escaping. These include conducting shows under controlled settings, conditioning of the birds and adopting tracking technology.

But nature groups raised concerns on the potential for conflict between the show birds and native wild birds.

"The key concern was that this could have an adverse impact on the behaviour of the native birds," said Mr Philip Yim, senior vice-president at developer Mandai Park Development - MPH's development arm.

Given that there is no certainty these risks can be fully addressed, MPH decided to apply the precautionary principle, and decided on the mesh over the amphitheatre for the new Bird Park, said Mr Yim.

The precautionary principle is the strategy of taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty.

Park operator Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and tourism experts say visitor experience will not be impacted. While an open amphitheatre would allow show birds to fly in from farther away, a meshed amphitheatre presents new opportunities, said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, WRS' deputy chief executive and chief life sciences officer.

"Leveraging the security provided by the mesh... we can fly a larger number of birds and of mixed species at the same time, and try out new species not used before for more stunning performances."

Show birds may also be left to fly around in the amphitheatre before and after a show, providing them the "freedom to express their natural behaviour".

Mrs Ong Si Qi, 27, who has two young boys, hopes the mesh is made of thin wires and built with a high ceiling.

"If the mesh isn't obvious to visitors, especially children, it should be okay. But if it is, it may be a challenge to explain to my two-year-old why the birds at the park are caged, while those he sees outside are free to move around," said Mrs Ong, a senior associate in operations management.

Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, said: "If the design of the amphitheatre is 'weather-proof', it means that it can be accessed during hot or wet days... which will be ideal too."

Dr Michael Chiam, Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer, said: "If it is designed in such a way that it blends in with the nature environment and the theatre, visitors may not even notice it."