Mandai eco-resort to offer guests behind-the-scenes animal experiences

Treehouses at the yet-to-be-named resort, which will sit on 4.6ha on the north-east end of the Mandai precinct. PHOTO: MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS
An architectural illustration of an elevated walkway at the resort. PHOTO: MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS
A cross section illustration of the resort. PHOTO: MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS

SINGAPORE - Beyond snoozing in the middle of five wildlife parks, overnight guests at the future eco-resort in Mandai will be able to participate in behind-the-scenes activities where they can work with keepers and learn about the animals.

Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of Mandai Park Holdings, said during a media conference on Thursday (May 23) that the resort will offer a unique opportunity for guests to experience hands-on and learning activities that are not currently available.

Guests could, for example, be taken to the zoo's elephant enclosure in the evenings to help keepers put together "food puzzles" to be placed in the exhibit, and return in the morning to watch the elephants pull apart the branches and twine enveloping the treats, he said.

The yet-to-be-named resort, which overlooks Upper Seletar Reservoir, will be luxury hotel chain Banyan Tree Holdings' first in Singapore when it opens in 2023.

It will sit on 4.6ha on the north-east end of the Mandai precinct, where back-of-house facilities for existing wildlife parks will be cleared.

Plans for the resort, first announced in 2017, include hotel rooms, elevated cabins and treehouses.

The 24 treehouses will be designed in the shape of seed pods and set among the trees surrounding the resort, Mandai Park Holdings said on Thursday.

The 24 treehouses will be designed in the shape of seed pods and set among the trees surrounding the resort. PHOTO: MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS

Local firm WOW Architects has been appointed to design the resort, which will have 338 rooms.

The resort will be owned by Mandai Park Holdings, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, and run by Banyan Tree. The cost of the project is subject to tender and has yet to be determined, said Mr Barclay.

Mandai Park Holdings, which is the parent company of park operator Wildlife Reserves Singapore, is spearheading plans to turn Mandai into a eco-tourism hub by 2023.

Jurong Bird Park is due to relocate there next year, while a new Rainforest Park will open in 2021.

Both parks as well as the resort and two new nature-themed indoor attractions will sit adjacent to the existing Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari.

Banyan Tree's executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping told media at the Singapore Zoo that the resort will be unlike the others it operates across the globe.

It will offer its guests unprecedented access to nature, a "huge irony for an urban setting like Singapore".

"Because so much of this has been planned sensitively, I think our guests will come to realise that it is not just an urban hotel in the middle of Mandai park," he said.

(From left) Mandai Park Holdings group chief executive Mike Barclay, WOW Architects managing director Wong Chiu Man and Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping at a media conference on May 23, 2019. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

But guest access will not be unlimited.

To minimise unwanted interactions between hotel guests and surrounding wildlife, a 2m barrier will ring the resort, while low-level lighting will be used on paths to guide guests and discourage them from wandering into the rainforest.

The three-storey multi-storey carpark at the entrance of the parks will have two levels added to it so that parking will not have to be offered on the east side of the precinct, said Mr Barclay.

"Things like coach drop-off points will be put underground, so this will really lighten the vehicle-animal conflict," he added.

Construction of the resort, which has a height limit of four storeys, is expected to begin next year.

Where possible, the resort will be elevated several metres above ground to allow native wildlife to move across the site, Mandai Park Holdings said.

WOW Architects' managing director Wong Chiu Man said that the resort complex will occupy only previously disturbed areas to minimise the need to cut down trees. It will also limit energy use with measures such as natural ventilation and the use of solar panels.

As many native animals are nocturnal, an acoustic consultant has been hired to help ensure that sound from within the resort does not spill out, he added.

Nature groups have raised concerns about the impact of the 126ha Mandai development to wildlife in the neighbouring Central Catchment Nature Reserve, with several roadkill incidents reported in the vicinity since works to clear secondary rainforests for the two new wildlife parks began in 2017.

Mandai Park Holdings has taken steps to address this, including lowering speed limits along Mandai Lake Road, which leads into the parks.

An eco-bridge for animals will be completed by the end of this year, which will provide connectivity between the north and south sides of the nature reserve, said Mr Barclay.

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