Pandas star in River Safari's opening

SINGAPORE - The countdown to the soft opening of the River Safari ended in a cloud of confetti and a rush of nature lovers into the new park yesterday.

But many of them told My Paper that they were really there to see the giant pandas.

The pandas' enclosure was opened to the public in November last year, ahead of the rest of the River Safari.

British expatriate Gary Butcher, 51, said he originally went to the park with his family to see the pandas.

But, like many other visitors, Mr Butcher, a director in an aviation company, realised that there were other attractions that could rival the bears from China.

After he saw the manatees in the Amazon Flooded Forest attraction - said to be the world's largest freshwater aquarium - he decided they had "a bit of an edge" over the pandas.

"Although I love the pandas, the sight of the manatees is really refreshing. I could just sit for hours watching them," he said, adding that the marine mammals were graceful.

When asked about the popularity of the giant pandas, Ms Patricia Auyeong, acting chief executive of the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore, said the bears are an endangered species, and not many people would have seen them in real life.

So, the panda exhibit "would definitely be the highlight" of the River Safari, and add value to the experience that the park offers, Ms Auyeong said.

And, in being drawn to the park because of the pandas, visitors would also have the opportunity to learn about conservation and other types of wildlife, she added.

The soft opening of the River Safari, the fourth wildlife park run by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), saw close to 1,500 visitors yesterday. There were over 2,000 visitors on the opening day of the giant pandas' enclosure last year.

The park will be fully open later this year, after other attractions, like a river ride, are ready.

WRS also runs the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park.

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