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January 21, 2019

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Singapore eco-zone ruffles feathers of protesters

SINGAPORE is creating a vast eco-tourism zone in a bid to bring in more visitors, but environmentalists fear the development will damage natural habitats and are already blaming it for a series of animal deaths.

While it may be best known as a fi­nancial hub with scores of high-rise buildings, tropical Singapore is still home to patches of rainforest and an array of wildlife, from monkeys to pangolins — also known as scaly anteaters.

In one green corner of the city sits a zoo and two sister attractions — a night safari and river safari — that have long been big draws for foreign and local visitors.

Now the jungle is being cleared in the same area to make way for a bird park, a rainforest park and a 400-room resort, to create a green tourism hub it is hoped will eventually attract mil­lions of visitors a year. But the project in the Mandai district has ruffled the feathers of environmentalists.

They believe that rather than promote biodiversity, it is too imposing for the area and will destroy forest habitats. And they say insufficient safeguards were put in place before work began — leading to animals being killed on roads.

The row has highlighted concerns about rapid development in space-starved Singapore, and worries that some of the country’s more wild and green corners are being lost only to be replaced with something more artificial.

“I think you are getting your priori­ties wrong if you are replacing natural heritage with captive breeding,” Suba­raj Rajathurai, a wildlife consultant said.

Roadkill worries

But Mandai Park Holdings, which is overseeing the project through its de­velopment arm, insists work is being carried out sensitively and will bring improvements.

The district, which sits next to a protected nature reserve and has been earmarked for development for years, is mostly abandoned villages and farm­land that have been swallowed by the surrounding jungle. Work is already under way in an area that is home to animals including flying lemurs and deer, with construction cranes looming over hillsides stripped bare of jungle.

A major focus of concern has been the animal deaths on the main road leading up to the zoo as forest is cleared.

Several deer, a critically endangered pangolin and a leopard cat are among animals to have perished after stray­ing in front of vehicles, according to environmentalists. Subaraj blamed the deaths on a lack of protective measures, pointing in particular to a failure to put up temporary barriers around the road quickly enough.

But Mandai Park Holdings insists it is doing everything it can to prevent ani­mal deaths on the roads. Barriers have been put up along the road, as well as a rope bridge for monkeys to cross above the traffic and road signs warning mo­torists about animals in the area.

A permanent bridge covered in shrubs and trees to allow animals to cross the road, which divides two major parts of the development, will be ready later this year.

“We have been working with the na­ture community, really from the word go, to work out what we should do to actually protect animals and keep them off the roads,” Mike Barclay, Mandai Park Holdings CEO, said. “Is it perfect? No. But we are doing everything that we can to mitigate.”

Rapid development

The new bird park — which will re­place an existing one elsewhere in Singapore — will feature nine aviaries, while the rainforest park will have walk­ways among treetop canopies. The hotel is being developed by Singapore-based resort chain Banyan Tree.

Work started in 2017 and the 126-hect­are development is due to be completed by 2023.

Green groups have raised concerns that besides the roadkill deaths, noise and light pollution from the large resort could affect the surrounding area, although the developer insists it will be designed carefully to limit any impact.

Defenders of the development insist it is better than throwing up more high-rises in a city that has developed at breakneck speed in recent decades. But for green activists such as Ho Hua Chew, vice president of the Nature Society (Sin­gapore), a project on such a vast scale is another setback for the country’s natu­ral environment. “We don’t say don’t develop it — just leave some more space for the wildlife,” he said.


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