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Turtle and Tortoise Museum facing race against time to find new home

Turtle and Tortoise Museum facing race against time to find new home

SINGAPORE — With seven months left before it has to vacate its Chinese Garden premises, The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum of Singapore’s search for a new home has stalled, raising questions over what to do with the over 500 animals.

Although she has considered at least three alternative sites since she was first told they have to make way for a makeover of the Jurong Lake District, owner Connie Tan has not found any of these places viable.

 Hers is the world’s only turtle and tortoise private zoo, started 16 years ago with her late father Danny Tan. She charges just between S$3 and S$5 for entry now, and said sustaining operations would mean her options are limited.

Among the places she has considered, Kusu Island is too inaccessible to draw visitors and revenue, Kranji’s Farmart Centre’s rent is too much to bear for her, while Orto in Yishun would have worked if only its remaining lease were not just three years.

Seemingly out of options, Ms Tan, 47, is banking on getting permission to return to the Chinese Garden after redevelopment of what is to become Singapore’s “new national gardens in the heartlands” when it progressively completes from 2020. The garden is slated to be one of the highlights of Jurong Lake District, which has been dubbed to become the second Central Business District.

Speaking to TODAY, Ms Tan, a director at her own event management and marketing company, said it would be a pity to cease operations, considering they are “the only tortoise and turtle museum in the world”, and hold a Guinness World Record since 2005 for the largest collection of tortoise and turtle items.

In a joint response to TODAY’s queries, the National Parks Board (NParks), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Urban Redevelopment Authority said the museum has to move out by March next year.

Ms Tan learnt about having to relocate from as early as 2014 when JTC Corporation handed over management of Chinese Garden to NParks. Her lease, which ran till March last year, has since been extended twice by the authorities to give her a grace period to find a new site.

“It is not feasible to extend the lease because of the development of Jurong Lake Gardens Central,” the statement wrote.

“The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum of Singapore turned down a suggestion to move to Kusu Island in 2016. The Museum is welcome to participate in future tenders when made available,” the agencies added.

Ms Tan said Kusu Island, which is a 45-minute ferry ride south of Singapore, is too remote for a steady stream of visitors. After visiting the site with SLA and NParks officers, she found that there are also no healthy grass patches there, and the temperature and humidity is unsuitable for turtles and tortoises to lay eggs.

“So I will practically just be waiting for them to die,” she added.

When she approached Farmart Centre, they quoted rent that is more than double what she is paying. And already, she is barely covering her current rental with the ticket prices she is charging, she said.

Ms Tan said Orto in Yishun is suitable, but the uncertainty over “how many more years they are able to have the land” means it would be dicey to commit. “It takes about five years to get a return on investment,” she said, when Orto has three years left.

About 60 per cent of its over 500 turtles and tortoises of more than 40 species were rescued, some of which the Agri Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) seized from the illegal trade. Some were abandoned by members of the public who left their pets by the museum’s doorstep.

If Ms Tan’s museum were to close for good, the AVA told TODAY they can work with the museum to relocate its turtles and tortoises to “other approved premises”, and “facilitating the export of the animals, if required”.

However, Ms Tan, who regards the museum’s turtles and tortoises as her pets, hopes to keep them. “I am responsible for them. I will not give them to the zoo nor any others as these are my pets,” said Ms Tan, who “secretly” kept turtles in basins under her bed as a six-year-old and eventually grew her collection to occupy both her toilets in her five-room flat.

On Wednesday, National University of Singapore undergraduate Madeline Ng started a petition on Change.org signed by some 240 people so far in a bid to save the museum.

The 19-year-old said: “If more people know (about the impending closure), it may help the turtle museum not close down.”