River Safari



Officially opened on 28 February 2014, River Safari is Asia’s first river-themed zoo.1 The S$160-million park attraction is spread across 12 ha of land in Mandai.2 Focused on freshwater habitat conservation, the safari houses the world’s biggest freshwater aquarium and one of the largest collections of freshwater animals.3 The park is home to 6,000 animals from 200 species, of which 40 are threatened.4 Among River Safari’s star attractions is a pair of giant pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia.5

Background and conception
On 20 November 2007, then Minister of State for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran revealed that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) were carrying out a feasibility study for a third animal attraction at Mandai, in addition to the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. A riverine park, which WRS was conceptualising at the time, aligned with the STB’s plan to “augment and diversify the Singapore visit experience” beyond the consumption of material goods.6

The nascent conceptualisation process of the riverine attraction was inspired by the flooded forests of the Amazon River – an idea that struck exhibit designer Cham Tud Yinn (now director of exhibit design) in 1996. The idea was subsequently expanded to a safari showcasing the world’s iconic rivers.7

On 11 February 2009, Fanny Lai, then WRS group chief executive officer, formally announced the river safari project, and construction began in 2010. The park was built within the 89-hectare area in Mandai where the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari are also located.8 Named River Safari, the attraction was expected to see an annual visitorship of at least 750,000 and estimated to cost S$140 million.9

River Safari aims to “create a greater awareness of freshwater habitat conservation” by allowing visitors to have close encounters with freshwater ecosystems and their inhabitants. Different and unique species of animals were procured for the new safari through animal exchange programmes with other zoological institutions in the world.10

Construction and design
River Safari, designed by DP Architects, was developed and designed with ecological and environmental considerations in mind, particularly pertaining to the nearby Mandai Nature Reserve and Upper Seletar Reservoir.11 Construction was planned as much as possible to accommodate the continued existence of “endangered and mature” trees at the site; those that had to make way for the development were transplanted to other locations.12 The WRS also grew 100,000 trees and plants, comprising 400 species, within the grounds of River Safari as part of a reforestation strategy.13 To minimise the adverse effects of the new development on existing habitats surrounding the park, a green corridor was built to support the biodiversity of the Mandai area.14

The green features of River Safari include bioswales – a stormwater drainage and filtration system integrated into the natural environment – which provide clean water for wildlife, as well as energy-saving measures such as natural ventilation, use of natural light, energy-efficient light pipes and water-efficient fittings. In recognition of its environmentally friendly design and engineering features, River Safari was awarded the BCA–NParks (Building and Construction Authority–National Parks Board) Green Mark for New Parks Award (Platinum) in 2012.15

The park’s was originally targeted for completion in 2011, but the date was pushed back to the first half of 2012. The ground-breaking ceremony was held on 21 May 2010.16

River Safari can accommodate up to 7,000 visitors daily.17

Opening
The Giant Panda Forest was revealed first to the public on 29 November 2012, ahead of River Safari’s opening.18

Saddled by a series of delays, River Safari had its soft launch on 3 April 2013, during which the park saw nearly 1,500 visitors.19 At the time of its soft opening, the Amazon River Quest boat ride, a central feature of the park, was closed due to technical adjustments, while 40 percent of the safari’s wildlife collection was not ready for public viewing.20 The Amazon River Quest was eventually launched on 7 December 2013, bringing the wildlife attraction to completion.21

On 28 February 2014, River Safari was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; by then, more than one million visitors had visited the attraction.22

Attractions
River experiences

River Safari mainly comprises exhibits themed after the freshwater habitats of iconic rivers including the Amazon, Mississippi, Congo, Nile, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze rivers. Each river zone houses animals from its respective ecosystem. Some of the featured wildlife are the Mississippi paddlefish, alligator gar, Indian gharial, softshell turtle, Mekong catfish, giant freshwater stingray and giant salamander.23

Giant Panda Forest
The Giant Panda Forest – a high-tech biodome spread over an area of 1,600 sq m – comprises the giant panda, golden pheasant and red panda enclosures, a research centre, two kitchens and an endocrine lab.24

The giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia are on a 10-year loan from China in commemoration of 20 years of Singapore–Sino diplomatic relations. The WRS’s fostering of the pandas is a collaboration with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The pandas are placed in a breeding programme with the aim of promoting greater awareness of wildlife conservation.25 The pair, whose names were chosen via a public naming competition in 2010, arrived in Singapore on 6 September 2012, following months of delay as a result of modifications to their enclosure in River Safari.26

The S$8.6-million panda enclosure was built to simulate the conditions of their natural habitat. The features include a special glass roof that allows natural light in without heating up the enclosure, a cooling system and insulated walls to maintain a constant temperature between 18 to 22 degree Celsius, as well as green terraces and boulders that form a hilly terrain.27 The WRS horticultural department cultivates four bamboo species for the pandas’ diet within the Mandai compound.28

The Giant Panda Forest also houses a pair of red pandas – on an exchange programme from South Africa’s Johannesburg Zoo – and golden pheasants.29

Amazon Flooded Forest
The Amazon rainforest during its annual flooding season has been recreated at River Safari. A team from WRS visited the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Peru to study the Amazon flooded forest to ensure a faithful replica of the original in the River Safari’s exhibit. As a result of the study trip, fallen branches and hanging vines were added to the aquarium exhibit, and plants that attract birds and butterflies were sown for greater authenticity. To enhance the experience, sound recordings taped by the team when they were at the Amazon River play in the background. The Amazon Flooded Forest features the world’s biggest freshwater aquarium – 22 m long and 4 m wide – that visitors can walk through via an underwater tunnel. The aquarium features the manatee, arapaima, anaconda, piranha and the giant river otter, among others.30

Amazon River Quest
One of the major attractions of the safari is the Amazon River Quest – a 10-minute boat ride along a 483-metre-long, one-metre-deep man-made stream meant to be a replica of the Amazon River. Passengers are afforded the view of around 30 wildlife species that inhabit the edges of the Amazon River,31 including the jaguar, giant anteater and Brazilian tapir.32


River Safari Cruise
The 15-minute River Safari Cruise on the Upper Seletar Reservoir meanders along the perimeters of the Night Safari and the Singapore Zoo. Visitors have the chance to catch sightings of wildlife, including giraffes and Asian elephants at the edges of both parks.33 Native species that inhabit Upper Seletar Reservoir, such as the water monitor lizard and the long-tailed macaque, can also be spotted during the ride.34

Conservation efforts
Besides the breeding programme for the giant pandas, River Safari is also involved in a trial breeding programme to conserve some of the most endangered freshwater species found only in Singapore. Some of the species included in the programme are the Johora singaporensis crab (commonly known as the Singapore freshwater crab), swamp forest crab and Johnson’s freshwater crab.35

Education and outreach
River Safari offers a range of educational programmes catered to different age groups. The interactive sessions and tours aim to ignite interest in wildlife and create awareness for wildlife conservation.36


Shortly after its opening, the park introduced the “Be a Panda Researcher” and “Fishy Business” programmes.37 In the “Be a Panda Researcher” programme, participants learn about the pandas’ diet and digestive system by their defecate. The “panda researchers” also examine the animals’ paw prints and markings to understand how panda researchers track pandas in the wild.38

“Fishy Business” is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Amazon Flooded Forest during which participants get a glimpse into the work of an aquarist and learn about the aquarium’s life-support system. The activities include preparing food for the manatees and arapaimas, and feeding the silver arowanas.39

The “Panda Rise and Shine” session allows participants to observe the pandas during their morning routine, which consists of physical checks, weighing and target-training in the pandas’ dens. Participants will also have the chance to prepare the pandas’ pre-morning snack, bamboo breakfast and enrichment toys.40 This premium tour was developed to give participants a more in-depth understanding of how River Safari cares for the panda duo.41

Timeline
2007: A new nature attraction in Mandai is mooted.42
11 Feb 2009:
WRS announces new safari in Mandai.43

21 May 2010: Ground-breaking ceremony of River Safari is held.44
6 Sep 2012: Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia arrive in Singapore.45
29 Nov 2012: Giant-panda exhibit opens to public.46
3 Apr 2013: Soft opening of the River Safari.47
6 Dec 2013:
Launch of the Amazon River Quest, thus completing the River Safari.48

28 Feb 2014: Official opening of River Safari.49
1 Aug 2014: Launch of the River Safari Cruise.50



Authors
Zoe Yeo Lock Yan and Fiona Lim



References
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2. Ng, K. L. (2013, February 3). The seed that grew into a wildlife park. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
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11. Tay, S. C. (2011, December 31). Faces of 2012: Ng San Son. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). About the parks: River Safari – Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/parks-info-about-parks.html; DP Architects. (n.d.). Projects: River Safari. Retrieved from DP Architects website: http://www.dpa.com.sg/projects/river-safari/
12. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). Wildlife Reserves Singapore year book 2009/2010, p. 17. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/pdf/yrbk0910b.pdf
13. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d). Yearbook 2012–2013, p. 23. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/pdf/yrbk1213.pdf
14. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). About the parks: River Safari – Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/parks-info-about-parks.html
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17. Lee, U.-W. (2014, February 28). Pride and relief in bringing River Safari to life: CEO. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
18. Mohandas, V. (2012, November 29). River Safari helping Mandai become ‘nature cluster’: Iswaran. Today. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lee, U.-W. (2014, February 28). Pride and relief in bringing River Safari to life: CEO. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva; River Safari opens to public during soft launch. (2013, April 3). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
20. Lin, M. (2013, March 26). River Safari to open next week. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
21. River Safari launches boat ride, marking completion of wildlife park. (2013, December 7). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
22. Lee, U. W. (2014, March 1). Continual effort needed to keep S’pore tourism edge: PM Lee. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
23. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). Park experience. Retrieved from River Safari website: http://riversafari.com.sg/visitor-info/park-experience.html
24. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). Giant Panda Forest. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://pandas.riversafari.com.sg/giant-panda-forest.html
25. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). Yearbook 2012–2013, p. 16. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/pdf/yrbk1213.pdf; Popatlal, A. (2009, November 12). China sends two furry friends. Today, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Lim, J. (2012, September 7). S’pore welcomes its first resident pandas. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Huang, L. (2011, March 17). Pandas named Kai Kai, Jia Jia. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ng, K. L. (2012, May 17). Pandas ‘should arrive by year-end’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
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29. Ng, K. L. (2012, August 20). Rare red pandas to feature in River Safari. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). Giant Panda Forest. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://riversafari.com.sg/giant-panda-forest/giant-panda-forest.html
30. Lijie, H. (2012, March 10). ‘Controlled chaos’ at Amazon section of River Safari: Replicas of dead branches, trees for realistic feel. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
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32. Lin, M. (2013, November 19). Float down the Amazon – in Mandai. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d.). Yearbook 2013–14, p. 17. Retrieved from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/pdf/yrbk1314.pdf
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34. Lin, M. (2014, July 31). River Safari launches new cruise attraction. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
35. Chua, G. (2014, April 7). Endangered crab to get help to make babies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (2014, March 29). Experts aim to save one of Singapore’s most threatened unique species at inaugural roundtable on freshwater crab conservation [Press release]. Retrieved from Wildlife Press website: https://wrscomsg.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/experts-aim-to-save-one-of-singapores-most-threatened-unique-species-at-inaugural-roundtable-on-freshwater-crab-conservation/
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37. Tan, S. W. (2014, May 15). Keen on a panda poop adventure at River Safari? Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
38. Seow, B. Y. (2014, May 15). Pick at panda poop. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
39. ‘Play’ with panda poo at the River Safari. (2014, May 14). Channel NewsAsia.  Retrieved from Factiva.
40. Lin, M. (2014, August 28). Prepare food for Kai Kai and Jia Jia on new tour. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
41. Why panda tour is priced relatively higher: Wildlife Reserves. (2014, September 12). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
42. Ministry of Trade and Industry. (2007, November 20). Speech by Mr S Iswaran, minister of state for trade and industry, at the official opening of the African cheetah enclosure, 20 November 2007, 10.15am at the Singapore Zoo. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
43. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (2009, February 11). Wildlife Reserves Singapore builds River Safari, Asia’s first river-themed animal attraction [Press release]. Retrieved from Wildlife Press website: https://wrscomsg.wordpress.com/2009/02/
44. Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (2010, May 21). Wildlife Reserves Singapore marks new chapter of growth with launch of River Safari [Press release]. Retrieved from Wildlife Press website: https://wrscomsg.wordpress.com/2010/05/
45. Lim, J. (2012, September 7). S’pore welcomes its first resident pandas. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
46. Mohandas, V. (2012, November 29). River Safari helping Mandai become ‘nature cluster’: Iswaran. Today. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. River Safari opens to public during soft launch. (2013, April 3). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
48. River Safari launches boat ride, marking completion of wildlife park. (2013, December 7). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
49. Lee, U. W. (2014, March 1). Continual effort needed to keep S’pore tourism edge: PM Lee. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
50. Launching this Friday: New River Safari Cruise. (2014, July 30). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.




Further resource
Nur Dianah Suhaimi. (2009, November 14). Animal diplomacy. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




The information in this article is valid as at 25 June 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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Nature and Environment
Streets and Places
Geography
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Geography and Travels

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