A bio-diverse living museum in Penang is pleading with members of the public for help as its management has run out of funds due to 18 months of uncertainty and spotty income
Speaking in a heartfelt video published on 1 August, managing director of Tropical Spice Garden Katharine Chua said the garden is facing permanent closure as its funds are running dry.
"Because of COVID, our doors have been open and shut for the last 16 months and our existence is hanging by a thread," said Chua, who is also the owner of the garden.
"Although we've always prided ourselves on running a sustainable business, one that is environmentally-conscious and places people at its heart, nothing could have prepared us for this challenge."
"So, we urgently need the community's support to help keep this garden open for future generations to come."
Chua said the garden, nestled along the northeastern coast of Penang island, opened about 18 years ago and was one of Penang's first eco-tourism attractions
The garden has over 500 species of flora and fauna. It is a place for visitors to camp and learn about the rich flavours and history of Malaysian spices.
According to its website, prior to the Movement Control Order (MCO), the natural landscape used to offer guided tours, amenities for camping and barbeque, and meals.
It also offered gardening and planting workshops, as well as holding activities for kids and families, performances, and bazaars.
"In the early days, people didn't really understand what we were about. Many wondered why they should buy a ticket to see a jungle," Chua related.
"It was my job back then as a visitor coordinator to explain that it wasn't just a jungle. It's a magical garden where nature meets culture where our guests would rediscover the natural world as they wandered freely through the garden."
She added that the garden had won an award from Tourism Malaysia in the past.
Throughout the lockdown period, the garden was only able to open to visitors for four to five months
"Even when we could open, there was a police roadblock on the way to Tropical Spice Garden so no one came due to that," Chua said, reported Malay Mail.
"We have done what we could to cut down on our overheads, we let go three quarters of our staff last April and we now have a very small team."
She said most of the staff in the garden have taken severe pay cuts since last year and are paid below the minimum wage of about RM1,000 each.
She and her husband even have to dip into their own personal savings to keep the business afloat.
But the team did not take the challenge lying down. In a bid to keep the lush garden stay open, Chua started a crowdfunding campaign called 'Join the Family, Save the Garden'.
"For as low as RM25/month, the subscription will allow members unlimited entry to the Garden, join monthly activities, events, virtual classes, and workshops (currently ongoing) from anywhere in the world. Members are also entitled to exclusive garden camping passes," Tropical Spice Garden said in a statement made available to SAYS.
Chua said the subscription — called 'Spice Fam' — is more than just money, it is the "garden's lifeline to stay open".
Members of the public can also make a one-off donation to support the eco-tourism attraction.
For more information, visit its campaign website here.