River Safari's new attraction lets you glimpse native animals from boat

Visitors will ride down a 483m-long man-made river and get up close to 30 species commonly found on the banks of the Amazon, including the jaguar and Brazilian tapir.
Visitors will ride down a 483m-long man-made river and get up close to 30 species commonly found on the banks of the Amazon, including the jaguar and Brazilian tapir.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

While the real Amazon certainly takes a lot of beating, the driving force behind a new attraction at the River Safari reckons it can still trump the Brazilian jungle in some respects.

Mr Cham Tud Yinn, director of exhibit design at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said the much- anticipated Amazon River Quest boat ride that starts next month will have native animals to enhance the appeal.

That, he added, is something you do not often see when going down some of the world's mighty rivers, as Mr Cham well knows.

He spent many hours going with the flow along the Mekong, the Amazon and a river in the Taman Negara national park as part of his research for the new ride at the River Safari in Mandai.

Mud sliding down eroded river banks and toppled tree trunks rolling through the waters were common sights, he recalls, but what struck him most was that he could hear animals but not see them.

"You don't get to see many animals because they are hiding, although you can hear for example, gibbons howling," he said.

"I thought it'd be great to create a boat ride where people can see the live animals and be immersed in the river habitat."

The idea has been transformed into reality in the form of the Amazon River Quest boat ride.

Visitors will ride down a 483m-long man-made river and get up close to 30 species commonly found on the banks of the Amazon, including the jaguar, Brazilian tapir and primates such as the red howler and bearded saki.

Compromises, however, had to be made to ensure the safety of visitors. Wet and dry moats were built to confine animals to specific areas while a glass wall separates the three jaguars from the boats. And instead of eroded banks, the moats lining the river had their edges smoothened to prevent injuries.

"It's quite tough to balance realism and safety. Of course, safety is paramount," said Mr Cham.

The animals are conditioned to the presence of boats so they would not hide, said the River Safari's assistant director of zoology, Mr Ang Cheng Chye. Food will also be placed such that visitors will have a higher chance of spotting the animals. "But, of course, the animals have the option to go back into the bushes. If they find the crowd too rowdy, they can retreat," he said.

The river, which is a metre deep, was carved out of a narrow channel through Mandai's hilly terrain. The ride starts with a boat, which can take up to 15 people, plunging 5m into the waters but those expecting a heart-stopping ride will be disappointed. The boats meander along at 0.7m to 1m per second, propelled by currents created by a pump.

"It is not a thrill ride," said Mr Cham. "There are some plunges but they're quite gentle. People may get a bit of a splash."

The boat ride was supposed to be ready when the River Safari opened in March but was delayed because of technical difficulties. It will be included in the park's admission fees.

mellinjm@sph.com.sg