Wild ideas welcome

Plans for an inspiring Mandai makeover have sprouted a laudable range of green ideas and impulses. Cross-fertilised, germinated and progressively brought to fruition from 2020, these might transform sylvan Mandai into a "must-see, must-stay" destination, in the exuberant words of the Association of Singapore Attractions' chief.

To get off on the right foot, what is important is to agree on the basic premise of what might well be a huge and costly undertaking, as existing and new attractions are developed and ancillary infrastructure and services

are ramped up. If visitor appeal is the main driver, one might focus largely on "what sells" and possibly drop any notion of moving 5,000 birds across 400 species from Jurong to Mandai, as the Bird Park is not a major crowd-puller.

If the vision is that of a spectacular, world-class hub for conservation research, biodiversity education, eco resorts and gated nature-themed attractions, the green constraints of Mandai - the zoo occupies a mere 26ha of land in a water catchment zone - might warrant a look at larger spaces like the 1,020ha Pulau Ubin could offer.

And if the yearning is for a green refuge that the public can freely savour, with less of the hoopla of organised entertainment, it could be developed to heighten "people's sense of wonderment at nature", as the Nature Society president put it.

What would be ultimately self-defeating is to shape Mandai as all things to all men. A focused vision yields a better prospect of making the most of its bountiful natural setting - to lure Singaporeans of all ages and visitors alike.

The stroke of genius would lie in disturbing as little as possible and yet engineer ways for the happy wanderer to "serendipitously" discover wildlife near gravel trails or from treetop walkways. The more authentic the encounter, the greater the appreciation of nature and the desire to return.