Bye, turtles? Jurong turtle museum to close in March

Lease running out for turtle and tortoise museum, and owner has yet to find new site

Time is running out for over 500 tortoises and turtles at The Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum at Jurong Lake Gardens Central.

The lease of this little-known place will expire in March next year, to make way for the ambitious development of the Jurong Lake District, and museum owner Connie Tan, 47, has yet to find a new site for her 16-year-old family business.

She had considered options such as Kusu Island, Farmart Centre Singapore in Sungei Tengah, which conducts educational farm tours, and Orto, a multi-recreational park in Yishun, but none was suitable.

"Kusu Island is logistically and environmentally not suitable; Farmart is working from a very commercial point of view, and Orto could not get SLA's (Singapore Land Authority) clearance for us to be there," said Ms Tan, who is also the managing director for an events company. "I am exasperated as I am being pushed from one person to another."

The museum was started by Ms Tan and her late father, Mr Danny Tan, in 2001 to give children a chance to learn about different species of turtles and tortoises.

Ms Tan, who is the younger of two daughters, began keeping a turtle as a pet because her mother did not allow her to have a dog or cat - turtles were cheap and could be hidden under the bed. She soon fell in love with the turtles' unusual beauty.

As she grew older, her collection of turtles expanded with the help of her father, who also shared her passion. Mr Tan died two years ago at age 77.

The museum's living collection includes the world's third-largest species of tortoise (the African spurred tortoise), the most beautiful (radiated star tortoise), and the most dangerous (alligator snapping turtle).

Today, the museum accepts walk-in visits and conducts group tours and workshops for children. Admission costs $5 for adults, and $3 for senior citizens and children under six.

"This is my third time here and first time with the learning centre. The kids love the turtles and tortoises. This is the only place, other than the zoo, where they can see these animals," said Ms Suriani Suhaimi, 35, director of Bright Beginnings Learning Centre, who was on a group tour with 25 children, aged two to six, last Tuesday.

A male African spurred tortoise attempting to mate with a female. However, the female was not ready and spurned its suitor's advances by slowly crawling away. This tortoise is the third-largest tortoise species in the world, with a maximum recorded carapace length of 83cm and a maximum recorded weight of 105kg. This male and female pair are around 15 years old, but members of this species can live for up to 100 years. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The museum currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of tortoise and turtle items. It has 3,456 turtle items and over 500 live animals, spanning 40 different species.

These reptiles are mainly from Ms Tan's own collection and they come from all over the world, including China, Madagascar, Malaysia, India, Myanmar and South America.

A male red-footed tortoise walking among children from Bright Beginnings Learning Centre who visited the museum last Tuesday. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

"This is the only tortoise and turtle museum in the world, and it's a place that is one of a kind," said Ms Tan. "I hope my love for them will translate the wonder of these beautiful creatures to one and all. It is difficult to do business in Singapore, I am trying my best. If it cannot be supported, then I will have to fold and Singapore will lose this unique place."

A museum staff member using a brush and a hose to clean an alligator snapping turtle in its tank. The turtles in the tanks are cleaned every day. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Teacher Yau Lee Kian, 38, taking a photograph of her son Bryan, three, as he feeds long beans to a Malaysian giant turtle. The family, who live in Malaysia, were visiting Singapore for three days. "This is a quiet place and is suitable for children," said Madam Yau. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The outdoor pond is popular among visitors. The museum accepts walk-in visits and conducts group tours and workshops for children. Admission costs $5 for adults, and $3 for senior citizens and children under six. The tortoises and turtles come from countries such as Madagascar, India and Myanmar. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Staff feeding long beans to an African spurred tortoise. This particular species is intelligent enough not to crawl into the water and therefore, one of the few allowed to roam freely during the day. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Students on an educational learning trip from Sekolah Quantum Indonesia school in Bekasi, Java taking turns to sponge Xiao Hei, an Aldabra tortoise. Xiao Hei is a 5 years old female timid tortoise. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Terrapins and turtles line up the edge of the pond to bask under the sun. There are as many as 300 terrapins and turtles in the pond. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A statue of a tortoise against the red-eared sliders at the edge of the pond. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Staff from the museum preparing hairy gourd for the tortoises. Staff from the museum preparing hairy gourd for the tortoises. They also eat vegetables like kang kong, carrot, long beans, and lettuce. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Correction note: The story has been edited to correct the honorific for Ms Suriani Suhaimi. We are sorry for the error.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline Bye, turtles? Jurong turtle museum to close in March. Subscribe