Friday, 3 June 2016

Mandai to be nature hub with five wildlife parks: Eco-link for animals to be ready by end-2019

2 new ones to be built to join zoo, Night Safari and River Safari, with eco-lodges for visitors
By Audrey Tan and Pang Xue Qiang, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2016

Singapore will have a new wildlife and nature attraction in Mandai, complete with eco-lodges and a rainforest-themed park where visitors can get up close to wildlife.

When the Mandai nature precinct is completed by 2023, two wildlife parks - the new Rainforest Park and the relocated Bird Park - will join the existing trio: the Singapore Zoo, the River Safari and the Night Safari.

Sleeping under the stars could be an option for those who want to spend a night or two in Mandai, as options such as tents, suites and family rooms are being considered.

There will also be nature trails, boardwalks, outdoor seating and playgrounds, where no admission fees will be charged.

The 126ha Mandai hub sits just outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and borders Upper Seletar Reservoir.

The plans to turn the area into a nature precinct were announced yesterday by developer Mandai Safari Park Holdings. Tourism experts welcomed the move, saying it could help Singapore benefit from the fast-growing nature tourism.

At the 12.5ha Rainforest Park, visitors can stroll along aerial walkways that extend from the forest floor to treetop canopies, or enjoy the cool forest as they relax in pods suspended from the ground.

The Bird Park, which will be relocated from Jurong, will occupy 17ha and open as early as 2020. Birds will fly freely in nine "upsized" aviaries, each featuring a unique landscape such as bamboo forests.

Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of Mandai Safari Park Holdings, said yesterday that encounters with wildlife may be fleeting and irregular in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and the Rainforest Park will give people a chance to get up close to wildlife.

The hub is being designed to be in harmony with nature. The two new parks will be developed on previously occupied land and measures will be taken to minimise impact on the flora and fauna in the area.

An eco-bridge will be built across Mandai Lake Road for animals to move between the central and northern reaches of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Plans for a makeover were first announced in 2014 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The first phase could start as early as later this year and will cost $1 billion. It will cover construction of the two new parks, infrastructure and enhancing facilities at the existing three parks.

Dr Michael Chiam, Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer, said: "More Singapore residents are getting away from their concrete jungle environment into nature and wilderness, to relax and be rejuvenated. This hub has great potential to attract them."

Housewife Foo Kailing, 34, liked the idea of having public access spaces. The mother of two children, aged six and eight, said: "I've taken my children to the zoo only once. With more open spaces that are free, there are more reasons to go back."

Mandai nature hub could draw eco-tourists
Experts say planned 126ha attraction could help S'pore better compete in fast-growing nature tourism industry
By Audrey Tan and Pang Xue Qiang, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2016

Singapore may lack the natural wonders found in many neighbouring countries but the upcoming Mandai nature and wildlife destination could help attract the growing number of eco-tourists, say experts.

Nature tourism is fast growing in the industry, said Ms Alicia Seah, Dynasty Travel's director of public relations and communications, and the "bundle of nature parks and zoological gardens" in Mandai could help boost visitorship to Singapore.

"Many tourists tend to go to our neighbours for trekking, diving and climbing, so the Mandai development could help Singapore better compete in the area of eco-tourism," she added.

Ms Seah was responding to news of Mandai being turned into a 126ha eco-tourism attraction, complete with five wildlife parks. The plans were announced yesterday by developer Mandai Safari Park Holdings.

The Mandai area is now home to the Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari. They will be joined by two new attractions - the Bird Park, which will be relocated from Jurong, and the Rainforest Park, as part of efforts to turn Mandai into a nature precinct.

Dr Michael Chiam, Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer, said it made sense to locate the five parks near one another.

"For example, one admission ticket could allow visitors to visit any of the five parks. Visitors could spend the whole day there, boosting visitorship to all the five parks," he said.

Ms Seah agreed. She pointed out that the current location of the Bird Park in Jurong made it less accessible.

Every year, Jurong Bird Park welcomes about 800,000 visitors, about half of the 1.7 million that go to the zoo each year. The figure also pales beside the 1.1 million visitors to the Night Safari and one million to the River Safari.

"Many visitors will choose to visit the bundle of attractions in Mandai over the Bird Park in view of time constraints. With the addition of the Rainforest Park and the Bird Park to Mandai, we foresee a synergy among the five parks ," she said.

Mr Allan Chia, head of the Master of Business Administration Programme at SIM University, said the move will increase the popularity of the Bird Park. The Jurong area has evolved since 1971, when the Bird Park commenced operations, and is now an industrial neighbourhood, he said. "The contrast with a nature attraction is too stark for an effective coexistence."

Experts told The Straits Times that the move will be good not just for tourists but also for residents.

Dr Chiam said: "If the area has facilities that are relevant to the local residents, it will definitely attract them, especially since there is an upward trend of locals engaging in outdoor activities such as cycling, jogging and camping outdoors."

At the media briefing yesterday, Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of the Mandai Safari Park Holdings, said public spaces, such as boardwalks and playgrounds, will also be built to give visitors the chance to enjoy the greenery in the area without having to pay admission fees.

But while the new attractions have the potential to bring in the crowds, it is important to ensure that the impact on the environment is carefully managed.

Mr Chia said: "More visitors will change the character of the place significantly. These changes will affect the wildlife. Among other negative environmental impacts are pollution, congestion and deforestation."

The developers have sought to allay these concerns, saying development will take place on previously occupied and already impacted land. An environmental impact assessment was also undertaken and the results will be announced in the coming weeks.

Mandai Safari Park Holdings
The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2016

Plans for the massive Mandai makeover were first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in September 2014 during a live television forum.

In January last year, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said the project would be led by the Singapore Tourism Board and investment firm Temasek Holdings, which is a majority shareholder of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

WRS operates the existing stable of zoos as well as the Jurong Bird Park.

Subsequently, in October, Mr S. Dhanabalan was appointed chairman of Mandai Safari Park Holdings - a wholly owned unit to oversee the "concept development" for the estate's makeover.

Mandai Safari will have 10 other directors besides Mr Dhanabalan, who was the former chairman of Temasek and now chairs its philanthropic arm Temasek Trust. They include former WRS chairman Claire Chiang and WRS' new chief executive officer Mike Barclay.

Eco-bridge among measures to safeguard wildlife
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2016

The Mandai makeover may turn the place into an eco-playground for people, but developers are also implementing measures to safeguard wildlife in the vicinity.

Among the plans for the 126ha Mandai nature precinct announced yesterday is an eco-bridge for wildlife crossing, similar to the one over the Bukit Timah Expressway.

The bridge will span the width of Mandai Lake Road, a section of which separates the central and northern swathes of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve - the largest reserve in Singapore with a rich biodiversity.

Ms Natalia Huang, principal ecologist at consultancy Ecology Matters, said wild boars, leopard cats and sambar deer have ended up as roadkill along this stretch of road, and an eco-bridge could help reduce such deaths.

As the bridge aims to provide a continuous habitat through the landscape, it could also be used by other endangered animals within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, such as the Sunda pangolin, she added.

Wildlife experts and ecologists said such bridges could also help increase the areas for animals to forage for food and look for mates, and thus prevent in-breeding in forest fragments.

But they cautioned that for the bridge to work, certain ecological concepts must be followed.

"General aspects that need consideration would be understanding the diversity of wildlife present, and their movement in the area, so that the right location for the bridge is selected as well as size and type of bridge - whether it is an overpass or underpass," said Dr Nanthinee Jevanandam, a sustainability specialist from Earthys Sustainability Consulting.

Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of Mandai Safari Park Holdings, said the exact details of the bridge will be worked out after the environmental impact assessment is ready within the next few weeks.

Other than the eco-bridge, the plans for Mandai announced yesterday span five wildlife parks, free-access public areas and eco-lodges.

But even as tourism experts welcomed the rejuvenation of Mandai as an eco-tourism destination, nature groups and experts have expressed concerns that more development could negatively affect the surrounding wildlife.

Ecology consultant Ong Say Lin, 29, said: "As naturalistic and immersive of an experience this development can provide, I think it is safe to assume that it is still an enclosed development, with fences and walls, which the wild, original inhabitants of the area cannot traverse."

The developers have given the assurance that care will be taken in the development of the area, pointing to the environmental impact assessment, and saying development will take place on previously occupied and already impacted land.

"We are concerned in general for the effects of the development on the native fauna that have been using the site as a linkage between two fragmented sections of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve," said Mr Tony O'Dempsey, a spokesman for the Nature Society (Singapore), adding that the society is working with developers on the matter.

Team uncovers rich heritage in Mandai
Year-long study finds area was refuge for Catholics from China, home to several granite quarries
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2016

To many people, Mandai may be associated only with the zoo but a recent study there has found that the area has many human interest stories too.

Just decades ago, deep in the heart of the hilly Mandai jungle used to lie a settlement for Catholic refugees who had moved here to escape persecution and political unrest in Swatow, China.

About 750 Teochew villagers found refuge here after arriving between 1927 and 1928.

For this, they had to thank the late Catholic priest, Father Stephen Lee, who wrote to the British government 50 times to ask for land in Mandai for the refugees to settle and cultivate crops.

This and other stories of Mandai were uncovered in a year-long study by a team from Singapore History Consultants (SHC), who were commissioned by developer Mandai Safari Park Holdings.

The wholly owned unit of Temasek Holdings is building a 126ha nature precinct in Mandai in phases, from 2020 to 2023.

The plan is to use the research to help conceptualise the development plans and design, based on authentic historical research of the area, said the developer.

The research could also be detailed in a heritage trail of the space in future.

SHC director Jeya Ayadurai said: "Initially, we saw just a large green area. We wondered if we would be able to find anything to share beyond the natural heritage.

"But we've uncovered this past world that was rich in layers of social, religious and economic history. Mandai has a story worth telling."

In recognition of Father Lee's efforts, the main road was named Stephen Lee Road by the then government. The road no longer exists but its original location can be found on land belonging to the Ministry of Defence today.

To further serve the refugees, Father Lee spearheaded the construction of a wooden chapel. A proper building called the Church of St Anthony was later constructed in 1960. This was relocated to Woodlands in 1994 due to planned redevelopment in Mandai.

The Cheng Chi Chinese Primary School was also built to serve the Catholic Village. There were at least six schools in Mandai, including Ban Lay School and the Nagammaiyar Tamil School.

According to old maps, Mandai was also home to several granite quarries - the Singapore Granite Quarries Mill, Seng Kee Quarry, Resource Development Corporation Quarry and Mandai Quarry.

The granite from these places, as well as those from Pulau Ubin, were used for the construction of the Causeway in the 1920s as well as the British Naval Base in Sembawang in the 1930s.

It was also used in the foundation work for roads, canals and Housing Board projects, said SHC.

A railway line by Topham Jones and Railton was constructed to support this industry.

The approximately 2km-long line connected with the main north-south line, which included stops such as Tanjong Pagar.

There were also rubber plantations in the area. The company Mandai-Tekong (Singapore) Rubber Estates once owned 196ha of land there. It had another 49ha in Pulau Tekong.

The SHC team, which carried out 16 expeditions into the Mandai forest, also discovered intact, remnant structures from the area's old kampungs and religious structures such as the Hu Tou Shan Temple.

Mr Jeya said: "There are foundations of old kampung houses, as well as pathways.

"Perimeter or boundary walls formed with granite from the quarries are also visible when you walk around."

The kampungs and community facilities were cleared in the 1980s as Singapore modernised. The land now belongs to Mindef, while another portion where the former Mandai Orchid Garden was sited belongs to the Singapore Land Authority. The zoo opened in Mandai in 1973.

Temasek's managing director of its enterprise development group Neo Gim Huay, who grew up in Mandai's Lorong Asrama, said her favourite months were June and December as these were months when fruits ripened. She would pick fruits such as rambutans with her cousins.

Ms Neo described the heritage trail as an "outdoor classroom".

She said: "Visitors will be able to walk the trails, visit the key landmarks and hear the stories of Mandai, perhaps, even learn how to pluck rambutans from the trees and draw water from the wells."

Heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim welcomed the study on Mandai.

He said: "To most Singaporeans, Mandai is just the zoo. It is timely to weave aspects of the past there into a trail. For instance, the Singapore Armed Forces used the grounds of former rubber plantations for field training in the 1980s."

• To help deepen the research on the area, the public can send their stories of Mandai online at

* Mandai eco-link for animals to be ready by end-2019
Bridge among slew of green measures as construction of nature hub gets under way
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2017

An elevated wildlife crossing in Mandai will be ready for animals to use by the end of 2019, allowing creatures such as the Sunda pangolin and lesser mouse deer to move between forested areas in the upcoming eco-tourism hub.

The 44m-wide eco-link, which will be 9m above ground and span the width of Mandai Lake Road, is part of developer Mandai Park Holdings' (MPH) plan to facilitate safe crossings for animals. Over the years, there have been reports of animals ending up as roadkill as they attempt to cross Mandai Lake Road.

Yesterday, MPH gave details of the bridge, and announced a slew of other green measures for the area, now that construction for the nature hub is under way. By 2023, a new Rainforest Park and relocated Bird Park will join the existing trio of attractions there - the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari.

The land on which the two new parks will be built is state owned. Secondary forest has, over the past few decades, regenerated there.

The area also sits right outside the ecologically rich Central Catchment Nature Reserve, forming a rich landscape of wildlife, some of which workers may encounter.

MPH said workers and contractors have to go for biodiversity training sessions to learn what to do should they encounter animals.

Mr Philip Yim, senior vice-president and project lead at Mandai Park Development - an MPH subsidiary leading the development - said a wildlife shepherding plan will be conducted to funnel wildlife away from work sites in Mandai.

He also gave details about the wildlife bridge that MPH had said last year it would build to provide safe passage for animals crossing between fragments of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve on both sides of Mandai Lake Road.

Similar to the Eco-Link spanning the Bukit Timah Expressway, the Mandai bridge will have native trees that would provide food and cover for native animals.

While work on the bridge is under way, artificial crossing aids such as poles and rope ladders will be put across Mandai Lake Road to help arboreal and gliding animals, like the Malayan colugo and the slender squirrel, get across safely.

MPH said such aids will also be deployed around the nature precinct to help with wildlife connectivity - which is important to ensure that animals can move around to feed and breed, and not get isolated.

Since plans for the area were announced in 2014, environmental groups have expressed concern that development work, noise from visitors and the possibility of escapee species from the parks would threaten native wildlife in the neighbouring nature reserve.

MPH has conducted an environmental impact assessment, the results of which were published in July last year. The wildlife bridge was one suggestion set out in the environmental report.

Another recommendation, which MPH has adopted, was to swop the locations of the new Rainforest Park and Bird Park, so that existing trees do not have to be cleared.

Primate researcher Andie Ang, who studies the critically endangered Raffles' banded langur in Singapore, said it is good the developer has committed to installing rope ladders to help arboreal animals cross Mandai Lake Road.

Dr Ang urged them to do so quickly, especially now that work has started. Rope ladders must be carefully designed so larger animals like monkeys can use them too. The langur, for example, has been spotted in the area.

When asked, MPH said the design of the rope ladders is still being worked out.



Zones to protect trees will be set up

By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2017

The secondary forests on both sides of Mandai Lake Road will soon make way for the Bird Park, which will move from Jurong, and the new Rainforest Park.

But developer Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) wants to preserve some of the decades-old trees and has engaged a tree expert to do the assessment. "We determine which trees to preserve based on a number of factors, including their size and species," said arborist Derek Yap.

They will be preserved in a way that ensures they remain healthy for years to come, he said yesterday, on the sidelines of an event held by MPH to brief the media on its environmental protection strategies.

"The development plans set out tree protection zones that are more than the bare minimum... As this is a forested context, we also preserve trees in clusters, and there will be a buffer around to ensure work does not encroach into these tree protection zones," Mr Yap said. A protection zone gives a tree room to grow, so its health is not impaired and its roots do not become unstable.

His assurance comes after a 270-year-old tembusu tree fell in the Botanic Gardens in February, killing a woman.

Evidence presented this month at a coroner's inquiry showed that the tree was decaying from the inside, although signs of the rot had not been visible to inspectors.

Mr Yap, the expert who took the stand, told the court that the rot could have started with the roots, and raised the possibility that this could have set in as far back as 1859, when the roots were last cut.

Yesterday, he noted that there have been major advances in arboriculture over the years. "When an arborist determines that works would result in a predictable failure of a tree, there has to be a dialogue between the parties involved," he said.

"Either the works are moved elsewhere, or the tree is removed. It is important to work with the contractor and designers - everyone has to come on board with the right mindset."

** Banyan Tree to run resort at upcoming Mandai nature hub
Eco-friendly hotel will be ready by 2023, and cater to visitors to area's five wildlife parks
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2017

Visitors to the wildlife parks in Mandai will in future get the chance to stay in the area past nightfall.

By 2023, they can spend the night in an eco-friendly hotel run by Banyan Tree Holdings, a Singapore-based hotel chain known for its luxury resorts around the world.

When opened, it will be the chain's first resort in the Republic.

Banyan Tree and Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) announced plans for the hotel yesterday.

MPH is spearheading plans to turn Mandai into a nature destination with five wildlife parks. The relocated Bird Park from Jurong and Rainforest Park will join the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari currently there.

The hotel will be capped at four storeys and occupy 4.6ha of land on the existing compound. It will have a variety of offerings, from standard and family rooms to elevated cabins and tree houses, to cater to guests with different budgets, MPH group chief executive Mike Barclay said at a briefing.

The hotel can have up to 400 rooms - the maximum number set out in an earlier environmental study, which looked at how the development could be done in a way that would least impact the sensitive habitats and wildlife in the neighbouring Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The hotel will also offer a variety of activities, such as talks on conservation and guided nature walks.

"This stay over experience forms an integral part of our overall vision for the Mandai nature and wildlife precinct - to inspire guests to value and conserve biodiversity through memorable experiences," said Mr Barclay.

Banyan Tree was selected as the hotel operator following a request for proposals, which saw submissions by eight companies. Construction is expected to start in 2020, after design and operation plans for the resort are finalised.

Yesterday, MPH and Banyan Tree said the upcoming hotel will be designed in an eco-friendly way. Flora of conservation value will be protected, and a 15m-wide vegetation buffer will be retained between the hotel and the adjacent Upper Seletar Reservoir.

Dr Guan Chong, head of the marketing programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences' business school, said the hotel will differentiate itself from others, being located so close to the wildlife parks.

"Currently... tourists who visit the parks have to travel back to the city centre after their visit.

"Being the first to be there, the Banyan Tree resort in Mandai can cater to the needs of park visitors and will face less competition as compared with hotels in the downtown area."

But concerns have been raised by nature enthusiasts about the impact the hotel's presence will have on wildlife there.

Mr Barclay said its design is paramount. "Two children in a swimming pool located at the edge of the resort could result in noise travelling to the reserve. But by placing the pool in the centre of the resort, and using buildings and other noise abatement strategies, this can be reduced," he said.

Nature guide Ivan Kwan hopes the resort will be designed and built in such a way that the abundant bird life will not fly into hotel structures.

Mr Tai Lee Siang, chair of the World Green Building Council and a member of Mandai's Environmental Advisory Panel, said such incidents could be reduced with the use of fewer reflective surfaces.

Mr Kwan said: "Another concern would be how the resort will deal with wildlife that the guests and staff will inevitably encounter.

"The resort will need to have proper guidelines for human-wildlife interactions, and ensure these are followed by the guests."


Mandai area set for major redevelopment
New plans for Mandai will be 'sensitive to area'
Major makeover of Mandai zoo precinct to be led by Temasek Holdings and STB
Mandai to become integrated nature and wildlife destination for Singaporeans
New features of the Mandai rejuvenation project unveiled at Ground-Seeding Ceremony

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