When completed, Mandai’s eco-tourism hub is expected to attract more than 10 million visitors each year, as well as generate a significant number of jobs in conservation research, tourism and hospitality, said developer Mandai Park Holdings as it launched the construction phase of the project on Monday (Jan 16).
The Mandai rejuvenation project will see the relocation of Jurong Bird Park and the development of a new Rainforest Park in the same area as the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari.
Currently, the four parks attract about 4.6 million visitors each year.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran promised “a rejuvenated experience in Mandai” once the first phase of the project - the opening of the Bird Park - is completed by 2020.
Mr Iswaran said the project would enhance Singapore's identity as a "city in a garden" and provide career opportunities for Singaporeans interested in conservation research and hospitality.
"With a strong focus on conservation and sustainability, Mandai will be a hub for nature education and research as well as a leading nature destination in Asia."
Elaborating on the type of jobs available, Mandai Park Holdings’ chief executive officer, Mike Barclay, said the aim was to run the five parks as an integrated precinct that would allow staff to rotate and work in the different parks and in various functions.
“We currently employ about 1,000 people full-time and we have many part-timers working with us. Our scale of operations will grow. We’ll have two new zoological parks here to staff up here in Mandai. We’ll have a hotel product - an eco-lodge product - and also an indoor centre, so there will be a lot of job opportunities.”
Visitors to the new Bird Park will see some of the world’s most endangered bird species in their natural habitats, said the developer. For example, it will feature the flora and fauna found in the flooded savannahs of South and Central America. Bird species from Africa, Papua New Guinea and the Australian bushland will also be represented.
Its avian collection is also billed as being among the most significant to be assembled in the world, featuring birds of paradise and hornbills, many of them endangered species.
One of the key attractions at the new Bird Park will be an underwater and "overwater" habitat for sub-Antarctic penguins. The developer said it would provide visitors a "fly with the penguins" experience - one that creates the impression of penguins "flying" through the water.
Another highlight, the Rainforest Park, will take visitors through the biodiversity found in Southeast Asian foliage, and allow them to see the trees from recreated caverns, a boardwalk and an aerial walkway.
“You could be at the tree-top level with the orangutans climbing the trees around you. I think it’s a very exciting concept and that’s why we want the different layering of the parks,” said Mr Barclay.
The Rainforest Park is expected to be ready by the end of 2021, earlier than the 2023 completion date previously announced.
Visitors to the new Bird Park and the Rainforest Park will arrive from the precinct's west entrance - one of the two "arrival nodes" to the precinct.
The other entrance - from the east - will provide access to nature-themed indoor attractions, as well as the zoo, the Night Safari and River Safari. It will also house accommodation options.
The entrances will be connected by walking trails and boardwalks along Upper Seletar Reservoir.
The separate entry points were created to reduce the impact of visitors passing through a single entrance next to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
Mr Barclay said a key guideline for the massive development is sustainability and the idea is to look at using the right materials and harvesting new energy sources.
“If you have a waterfall, it creates a lot of energy. Can we harvest that energy and put it back in to offset the energy being used to power the pumps? We have lots of opportunities for solar power as well within the parks,” he said.
Mr Barclay said Mandai Park Holdings will continue to work with nature groups to get their feedback on mitigating the impact of the project on the surrounding environment.