Why It Matters

The wild factor in Mandai plan

Singapore will have an eco-tourism hub come 2023, when development of the leafy Mandai area is complete.

Tourism experts have embraced the grand plan to turn the area into a 126ha nature and wildlife precinct, saying it could help the Republic benefit from fast-growing nature tourism.

Under plans announced last week by developer Mandai Safari Park Holdings, the area will have eco-lodges, free-access public spaces such as boardwalks and playgrounds as well as a nature-themed education centre.

The star attractions, however, will be five wildlife parks. Two new parks - the Rainforest Park and the relocated Bird Park - will join the existing trio: the Singapore Zoo, the River Safari and the Night Safari.

The Bird Park - relocated from industrial Jurong - could open as early as 2020, and observers say the move could help revive its charm.

But even as tourism experts welcome the plans for Mandai, nature groups and ecologists have expressed concerns that more development could negatively affect the wildlife in the area.

This is especially since the planned hub sits just outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve - the largest reserve in Singapore which is rich in biodiversity.

The developer has sought to allay these concerns, saying work will take place on previously occupied and already impacted land.

It has also done an environmental study, the results of which will be announced soon, and is committed to building an eco-bridge which will help wildlife cross between the central and northern swathes of the reserve.

The massive Mandai makeover will undoubtedly enable more people to get closer to nature and help them to better appreciate the great outdoors.

But the developer must ensure that the "Disney-fication" of the area, as well as the noise, crowds and pollution that come with it, does not come at the expense of Singapore's original, native wilderness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2016, with the headline 'The wild factor in Mandai plan'. Subscribe