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AS part of plans to develop the Mandai precinct into a 126-hectare nature and wildlife destination, the area will see the addition of two new wildlife parks, an education centre, eco-friendly accommodation as well as public spaces from 2020.
The first phase of the project, which is being spearheaded by Mandai Safari Park Holdings (MSPH), is expected to cost S$1 billion. The project is slated for completion in stages from 2020-2023, subject to regulatory approvals, while construction is likely to start by the end of this year. Plans for the makeover were first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in September 2014.
Complementing existing attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and River Safari, the new Bird Park and Rainforest Park as well as public spaces will be developed at a 35-hectare site outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. The new parks will be developed on previously occupied land and strict measures will be implemented to protect the animals and plants in the area.
"Visitors have asked for more novel, engaging and immersive experiences and we hope the new Mandai nature precinct will provide all that and more," said Mike Barclays, group chief executive of MSPH. "We are also mindful of the need to provide appealing public spaces so everyone can enjoy the beauty of the Mandai nature precinct."
MSPH owns 88 per cent of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) - the holding company and operator of the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and River Safari - while the Singapore Tourism Board owns the remaining 12 per cent.
Once the new Bird Park is up and running at Mandai, the existing Jurong Bird Park will eventually be shut down and the land returned to the government.
The new Bird Park will feature one of the world's largest collections of birds and will have nine aviaries with free-flying birds against the backdrop of different landscapes, including wetlands, bamboo forests and rainforests. In addition to this, it will have a breeding and research facility to ensure the propagation of endangered species from around the world, including the Bali Mynah and Black-winged Starling.
Popular features of the existing Jurong Bird Park will also be revisited in the new park, such as a new waterfall and custom-designed amphitheatre for bird performances.
Meanwhile, the Rainforest Park will spotlight the flora and fauna of South-east Asia's rainforests, while treetop canopies and forest floor pathways will give visitors different vantage points.
Singaporeans will also have free access to open spaces in central Mandai, which will offer gardens, boardwalks, waterways as well as playgrounds.
Meanwhile, an indoor nature-themed education centre located in the heart of the Mandai nature precinct will aim to raise awareness of the region's biodiversity and natural heritage, while eco-friendly accommodation such as family tents and rooms are on the cards for families and nature enthusiasts.
The refreshed precinct will also strongly focus on promoting wildlife conservation and education. Among other things, an eco-bridge will be built across the Mandai Lake Road for animals living in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve to move between the central and northern reaches.
To improve access to Mandai, MSPH is looking into different avenues, including shuttle buses from the upcoming Springleaf MRT station.
Chee Hok Yean, managing partner of hospitality consulting firm HVS, said that moving the Bird Park to Mandai made sense as it was already an established location for similar attractions such as the Night Safari.
"We need new attractions to maintain, if not increase, visitor arrivals," she pointed out.
"It anchors the Mandai precinct as an eco-zone, (which is) good for the tourism landscape," commented Kevin Cheong, past chairman and current executive committee member of the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA). "Singaporeans having a place that is an eco-sanctuary - that's good too. We need to do more of that and have our young be more conscious of the environment and our natural heritage."
However, he highlighted concerns, such as balancing an eco-hub which aims to conserve wildlife but will also see high volumes of visitors and cars. He also questioned the need to have separate and distinct parks with different gates - and presumably entrance fees - as opposed to one giant megazone with different species of animals and plants co-existing side by side.
Keeping it affordable and inclusive is also critical, Mr Cheong added.