Singapore's latest attraction The River Safari offers a glimpse of fresh water fauna from across the world 

Tourists visiting Singapore can get up-close with the major river ecosystems of the world, complete with its flora and fauna. For, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) — which is the holding company of the famed Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and the Singapore Zoo —  has recreated such an ecosystem. Created on a 12- hectare land, it offers a glimpse of the wildlife, mostly fresh water fauna of some of the iconic rivers of  the world. This includes the Ganges and Mississippi, Mekong and Yangtze river, Murray, Congo and the Nile. Also included is a guided cruise along a man-made river to get a peep into the wildlife found in the Amazon region.

  The River Safari, as it is called, is the latest offering by the WRS to not only lure tourists from across the world, but also to underline the ecological importance of wetlands and the imperatives of their conservation as the world’s collective heritage.

  While 85 per cent of the collections are designed to be viewed walking through special enclosures and galleries, each with a theme, the Amazon River Quest boat ride provides a glimpse of the remaining 15 per cent. A pair of giant pandas alongside a couple of red pandas housed in the climate-controlled exhibit in the Yangtze River zone is one of the major attractions of the River Safari. The walk through exhibits gives a glimpse of nearly 400 plant species and over 6,000 animal specimen, representing 200 species, making the river safari the first of its kind in Asia.

  The river zone of the Ganges is set against the façade of a temple and the wildlife is represented by the gharial and the goonch catfish. Moving on to different river zones, one can catch a glimpse of giant river otters, Chinese giant salamanders (world’s largest amphibian), Mekong giant cat fish (world’s largest freshwater fish which measures up to 3 m in length and weighs about 295 kg) among others. The Amazon River Quest which is actually a boat ride meandering through a man-made river, takes the visitors close to the jaguar, giant anteater, Brazilian tapir, capybara and a few other species that live along the Amazon River.

 Though the message of conservation underlying the concept is important, the project has also stemmed from WRS’ constant need to innovate to ensure an increase in the tourist footfalls so they can be financially self-sufficient.

 As Isabel Cheng, Chief Marketing Officer of WRS explained, "The challenge facing Singapore tourism is that of time-strapped tourists on a whirlwind tour of the region. Hence, it has to constantly innovate and hard-sell the product to lure tourists. So, a concept which began with a fresh water aquarium evolved into River Safari. And India being one of the major markets for Singapore for tourism, the WRS is promoting the new attraction to travel agencies as most Indians opt for group tours. Completed at a cost  of $ 160 million, the theme park was officially inaugurated on February 28, 2014, though it had a "soft opening" in April last year.

  (The author was part of a media team from India that visited Singapore recently at the invitation of WRS)

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