To attract even more visitors, Singapore has embarked on the construction of a vast ecotourism area. But the project is suffering the wrath of ecologists because of irreparable damage to ecosystems and an already negative record for local wildlife.
It is often ignored, but the Asian city-state is not only a financial place bristling with skyscrapers. With a humid tropical climate, part of its territory is covered with a forest sheltering a rich fauna, including monkeys and pangolins.
It is in one of the greenest areas that include the Singapore Zoo and two attractions – a night safari and a river safari – long appreciated by foreign tourists and locals alike.
But the nearby jungle is being cleared to make way for an ornithological park and a park dedicated to the rainforest with a hotel complex of 400 rooms, all forming a "green tourism pole" in Mandai sector, supposed to attract several million visitors a year.
This project is far from convincing the environmental organizations, which are already seeing irreparable damage to biodiversity and the environment. They consider it too big for the area and destructive for natural habitats. All the precautions were not taken around the site, deplore the defenders of the environment, especially on the access roads where many animals have already been crushed.
This controversy illustrates the anxieties generated in a state in lack of space by the too rapid urban development and the disappearance of its last refuges of wild life.
– Flying lemurs –
"It is obvious that we are wrong if we substitute the natural heritage of breeding in captivity," says AFP Subaraj Rajathurai, a Singaporean expert on wildlife issues. In this case, "the priority was to make money rather than find a balance and preserve biodiversity," he denounces.
Mandai Park Holdings, which oversees the program, ensures instead that his project is reasoned and will be a factor of progress. Backed by a protected nature reserve, the site was for years dedicated to a development project: it is mainly made up of abandoned villages and agricultural lands that have since been colonized by the jungle.
Work is already well advanced in this area which is home to flying lemurs and deer. Some cleared hills are already dominated by imposing cranes.
But concern is growing around the number of animals that died on the road to the zoo due to deforestation. Victims identified by conservation organizations include deer, a leopard cat, but also a Malaysian pangolin, an animal classified as critically endangered.
Subaraj Rajathurai denounces a lack of precaution, pointing in particular at the fact of not having put barriers early enough on both sides of the road.
"It's crazy, it would have been so easy to prevent that from happening," he says.
– "Lost areas" –
Mandai Park Holdings says it does its best to keep animals from being cut. Barriers are now in place, a rope gangway has been installed to allow monkeys to cross the road and signs also indicate the presence of animals to motorists.
In a few months, will also be completed a permanent bridge covered with trees and shrubs to allow animals to cross this road that cuts in two the site.
"We worked with the associations, really early on, to determine what we needed to do to protect the animals and keep them out of the way," Mike Barclay, head of Mandai Park Holdings, told AFP. . "Is it perfect? No. But we are doing everything we can to minimize the impact," he says.
The new ornithological park will replace a park existing elsewhere and will have nine gigantic aviaries. The park dedicated to the rainforest will include a walk in the canopy. The hotel is developed by Singapore's Banyan Tree hotel chain.
The 126-hectare project is to be completed in 2023, six years after the start of construction. Mandai Park Holdings, a subsidiary of the Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, did not disclose its cost.
Mown animals are not the only source of concern for environmental organizations, who also denounce noise and light pollution.
But proponents of the project argue that an ecotourism park is better than a new forest of skyscrapers.
For the vice president of the Nature Society in Singapore, Ho Hua Chew, the sheer scale of the project is a setback for the environment.
"We are not saying that we need no development, we are just asking for more space for wildlife," he told AFP.
"Over the past decade, development projects have accelerated, we fought, but many areas were lost."
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