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Neha Donde

This article is based on an interview with Kavita Prakash, CEO of Mandai Nature. While mainly focused on Mandai Nature in Singapore at the beginning of the interview, broader impacts for all of southeast Asia were discussed throughout!

Singapore. One of the world’s most renowned cities for innovation, rapidly growing economy, and a model of stability for neighbouring nations. Compared to Singapore's population in 1950 of 1 million, the city now provides a home for about 5.7 million residents. This intense population growth coupled with Singapore’s rapid urbanisation has led to a degradation of ecosystem services and a loss of biodiversity across the small country, as mirrored by many other first world countries across the globe. These issues have challenged Singapore’s government and its citizens to take action to restore biodiversity, ecosystem services and help fight climate change. Mandai Nature, an NGO founded in December 2020, aims to bring back some of Singapore’s native biodiversity through a series of projects, including the formation of new parks and zoos. Supported by the government, these projects will help conserve many of Singapore’s species and allow its residents to interact with them. In order to find out more, I spoke to Kavita Prakash, CEO of Mandai Nature.

Some more background information about Mandai Nature is required before talking about their projected and planned projects and impacts. To start, Mandai Nature is founded by Singapore Zoo (Singapore’s wildlife reserve) and Temasek (Singapore’s sovereign wellfund). Mandai Nature is based in Southeast Asia and builds on the work that zoos and parks do on wildlife protection and conservation and go beyond wildlife to protecting ecosystems such as forests and peatlands, and working on solutions to climate change arisen problems such as climate mitigation and adaptation. Currently, they are mostly working in Singapore, but they aim to broaden their range across Southeast Asia. Mandai Nature recognises that southeast Asia contains one of the most important environmental ecosystems in the world, the 3rd largest tropical forest, roughly 1/15th of the world’s peatlands, ⅓ of the mangroves, and a number of endemic species at high risk, with 250 of species that are on the IUCN red list. While they are focused primarily on species and ecosystem conservation, another focus are those people living in peatlands and forests, and how Mandai Nature can work with them to help conserve the ecosystems in which they live. While Mandai Nature is only a team of about 8-9 people, they work with local NGOs who develop proposals and projects that Mandai Nature helps get grants for and helps set up work with other partners. These local NGOs are connected to local communities and indigenous people who live closest to natural environments for their input.

Throughout the interview, Ms.Prakash and I began to dive a bit deeper into Mandai Nature’s projected impacts on biodiversity, as well as the impacts of education through zoos and parks through a specific Singapore lens. Singapore’s government and agencies such as NParks have put in a lot of effort into protecting forest areas, connecting green spaces, and bringing back lost species in recent years. Singapore has had some successes reintroducing hornbills and otters, but the situations of those species are still complicated and intricate, with many nuances involved. Mandai Nature helps support a lot of the projects from National University Singapore and Nanyang Technological University that help reintroduce species back into Singapore’s forested areas. For example, Mandai Nature helped support Dr. Andie Ang, who works with the Raffles Banded Langur, a primate native to Singapore, with only 68 individuals left. Mandai Nature also uses Singapore as an exemplar for other countries on how to reintroduce certain populations of species. For example, the straw headed bulbul is easy to find in Singapore, but in other countries are highly threatened. Mandai Nature theorises that they may be able to use some of the individuals from the Singapore population to reintroduce into other neighbouring countries. That being said, Prakash also stated that much more work needs to be done in order to help with conservation and protection of both species such as pangolin and ecosystems such as mangroves and wetlands. Another positive effect Mandai Nature hopes to have is education on the younger generation. Prakash stated that one main question that zoos aim to answer is, “How do you engage children at a young age to appreciate and love wildlife and have information on that so that the choices they make are important and, and you know, help in the broader conservation?” Zoos help with education and awareness because they are able to reach many different demographics, including both children and parents alike. For example, when selling products at zoo gift shops, many contain sustainable palm oil products, which can influence and help educate people the harmful effects of harvesting palm trees across southeast Asia in order to make palm oil. Other areas Mandai Nature wants to start focusing on are investments into tourism and tourist attractions using zoos and parks in order to engage the international population that visits Singapore to be more cognisant and aware of environmental issues. Furthermore, revenues from the park projects that Mandai Nature is working on building currently will be used to fund the parks in the future, and therefore will be going towards conservation efforts. Zoos and parks are methods of conservation by giving species at risk a habitat, helping reintroductions and bio-banking, and finally providing insurance against extinction.

The final bit of this interview that will be covered in the article are some future plans of Mandai Nature. Currently, there are about 40 projects being supported through Mandai Nature, with 10 in Singapore, and 30 in Southeast Asia. Their main goal five to ten years from now is to grow the impact and size of their projects. For example, moving on from how to save wildlife in a particular area to targeting the threats to wildlife in that area and beginning to eliminate those as well. They are looking to combat two of the main threats to wildlife in Southeast Asia, which are habitat loss and intense demand for species such as songbirds for competitions, ivory for use in medicine and jewelry, and pangolins for their scales used in traditional medicine. They are also aiming to look at many problems related to decreased biodiversity and loss of ecosystem services through a lens of climate change more thoroughly and use tourism as a job for more people on the ground. Essentially, they are looking to scale up their current projects and hope that these projects will grow to have a strong net positive impact in restoration, conservation, and protection of our species, ecosystems, and our climate.

To find out more about their goals and who they are, visit their website: https://www.mandainature.org/en/home.html


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