Mandai makeover: Eco-bridge, biodiversity classes for contractors among measures to protect wildlife in area

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The new Bird Park site at Mandai.
Artist’s impression of the Eco-Link bridge. PHOTO: MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS
A wildlife crossing sign along Mandai Lake Road. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

SINGAPORE - To reduce impact on native wildlife found in natural forests surrounding an upcoming eco-tourism hub in Mandai, a new wildlife bridge crossing 9m above ground will be built by end-2019.

Mandai Eco-Link, which will be 110m long and 44m wide, will have native trees that would provide food and cover for wildlife crossing Mandai Lake Road.

Developer Mandai Park Holdings will also provide biodiversity awareness training sessions for contractors in a bid to reduce impact on native wildlife.

Contractors will learn more about animals that roam the forests of Singapore, like the straw-headed bulbul, king cobra, and lesser mousedeer, and what to do if they were to encounter one during the course of their work.

MPH released details of these measures during a press conference on Wednesday (July 26). Preparatory work in the area is currently underway with Mandai Lake Road now lined with bright yellow hoarding.

The plan is to build a new Rainforest Park and relocate the Bird Park from Jurong to join the existing trio of attractions there - the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari by 2023.

Mr Philip Yim, senior vice-president and project lead at Mandai Park Development, said on Wednesday that a wildlife shepherding plan will also be implemented to gradually funnel wildlife away from work sites - similar to what the Urban Redevelopment Authority did in 2016 for a forested area in Lentor that had to make way for a private housing project.

The Mandai area is rich in wildlife as it sits right next to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The land on which the Rainforest Park and Bird Park will be built is on state land but secondary forest has over the past few decades regenerated, resulting in a rich landscape of wildlife that workers could encounter.

The training sessions aim to teach them more about the denizens of Singapore's forests, such as their conservation status, or whether an animal is endangered in the wild.

They are also taught how to respond to these sightings. If a rare animal is sighted, a response protocol is in place for wildlife specialists to be activated to handle the animal professionally and safely.

Mr Foo Hee Kang, managing director of KH Foges, which is MPH's piling contractor for current works, said it is mandatory for everyone who accesses the project site - from its project managers to supervisors and workers - to undergo biodiversity awareness training. This is because the Mandai site is different from the other projects it manages, which are mainly urban construction.

The training will include keeping to construction boundary, no handling of wildlife and activating MPH's wildlife response team in the event of a wildlife encounter.

"Such training helps to ensure the protection and safety of both wildlife and our staff," said Mr Foo.

Mr Yim also gave details on the wildlife bridge that it had last year said 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 using the crossing.

While work on the Eco-Link is underway, 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 aid 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 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, environmental groups have expressed concern that development work in the area, noise from visitors, and the possibility of escapee species from the parks, would threaten native wildlife in the neighbouring nature reserve.

MPH said it conducted an environmental impact assessment and has been engaging with the green groups since 2012, well before plans were firmed up.

The Eco-Link was one suggestion set out in an Environmental Impact Assessment report released last July (2016), detailing environmental protection measures including creating buffer zones around work sites.

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

Nature guide Ivan Kwan welcomed the new measures MPH said it will implement.

"The eco-link, and plans to rejuvenate the habitats, sound good. But they appear to be effective only after the development is complete," he said.

"However, I'm curious to see what other interim steps will be taken during construction. Rope ladders can benefit arboreal animals but aren't useful for terrestrial species. Especially with the expected increase in road traffic, native animals from the nature reserve could end up as roadkill."

Primate researcher Andie Ang, who studies the critically endangered Raffles' banded langur in Singapore, said it is good that 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 have to be carefully designed so larger animals, such as monkeys, could use them too. The langur, for example, has been spotted in the area.

Bird scientist David Tan from the National University of Singapore said there has to be strong science backing the eco-link. For example, when the National Parks Board built the BKE eco-link, it did biodiversity studies, camera trapping work and bird surveys on both sides of the bridge before, after and during construction.

"However, there is no indication that there will be pre- and post-monitoring schemes in place in the Mandai Eco-Link. It's currently being taken on faith that the bridge will work," he noted.

When asked, MPH said biodiversity studies on both sides of the proposed eco-link are ongoing, and that long-term monitoring will be done.

They also said the rope ladders design is still being worked out.

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