The Hat Yai Zoo can be found just a short distance outside of the city of Hat Yai in the south of Thailand. It is not really on the tourist trail and visitors to the area are more likely to visit the Songkhla Zoo. In fact, to many the Hat Yai Zoo is the Songkhla Zoo. But they are two different collections. The Hat Yai Zoo is referred to others as the Bird Park, which is fair enough because this small collection is made up mainly of birds. Small it may but this largely ignored collection boasts one of the largest aviaries in Asia.
The collection is a municipal one and situated in a large and attractive park. Sadly for the zoo and its occupants they are cramped into one corner next to the busy main road.
This is one of a series of zoo reports that was actually included within my travel journal ‘The Itinerant ZooKeeper’. Initially I started to extract the zoo data but found the reading was diminished by it. So look on it as a zoo travelogue. The only major edits I have done is a little censoring and to remove the Casanova exploits.
Oriental Pied Hornbill
Monday 8th May 2006
Quite close to my guesthouse are two shops devoted entirely to sale of Sharks fins* and Birds nests*. It is no coincidence that two blocks away there are three large restaurants which specialise in soup from these two items. I have a dim recollection of eating these soups in the distant past but would not do so today on principle. Okay, the birds nest trade is monitored, I think? But there are shark species on the road to extinction just to produce a soup. I had a look round both shops. All the sharks fins are dry and sealed in clear plastic packages and vary in size from huge individual fins down to smaller envelopes with a dozen or so smaller ones. These are all displayed on shelves behind glass in huge ornate wooden cabinets. Each shop must have had hundreds of packages in stock. The birds nests are in clear Perspex boxes. There are small boxes and large boxes containing varying numbers of nests. All is scrupulously clean. I found the variety of nest colour interesting. Whether this was a result of the nests age or from whatever was in the 'spit' I don't know. There was also a difference in the way some of the nests were constructed. Different species perhaps. In the past I was told that birds nest soup was a waste of time as all the flavour came from the vegetables included in the dish. Having now seen the nests I would say that this is not true. The nests, though small, are substantial and look very much like they have a flavour of their own.
I have had breakfast, well tea and toast, the past couple of mornings in the same restaurant. Nice clean place, friendly staff and a regular clientele. This morning I noted a huge cockroach hiding behind the sugar on my table. I simply adjusted the container so that I would not have to look at it. I didn't think twice. Well till now really. It's funny how one simply starts to accept things for what they are. I have several times eaten meals with rats under the table. There are lots of big ones in the street here. I have accepted them before. I remember in Al Ain in the early days that when Roz and I went to the cinema we used to purchase three bars of chocolate. One for each of us and one to keep the rats around our feet busy.
This morning I walked out to the travel agent and validated my open minibus ticket to Penang, Malaysia leaving 9.30 tomorrow morning.
Next I caught a taxi out to Hat Yai zoo. This is set in the Municipal Park about four miles out of the City. What a sad little place this is. The park itself is wonderful and seems to stretch for miles but they go and plonk the zoo right next to the main road. The aviaries back onto the road and in part are open to it. They are small and barrier less. No thoughts for flight distances. The larger freestanding aviaries can be walked right around. Perching is poor to none existent. There is some planting which is a blessing for those few lucky species that have it. Feeding looks to be poor. Just about everything seemed to be getting banana and chunks of corn on the cob. The exception would be an outstandingly beautiful owl (housed with a Brahminy Kite) who had been given a couple of fish and the Hornbills (6 species) which, well some of them, appear to have been given some sort of grape too. Happily it was possible to buy fruit and other foods for the animals and I daresay that their survival largely depended on this.
The best aviary here was a large walk through water bird enclosure (which you couldn't walk through). This was nice, roomy and semi natural. Usually these type of aviary are very overstocked. This was, if anything, the opposite. Much better that way. There were Night Herons and Egrets breeding within. The only mammals here were rabbits. Their cage was horrible. The Green Iguanas held close by were no better off and were being teased by adults and children. There was a huge Siamese Crocodile**. Biggest and bulkiest I have seen. Perhaps not the longest at around three and a bit metres but huge anyway. There didn't seem to be a whole lot wrong with its diet. Housed alone its quarters were just adequate.They did the job and no more.
Many of the birds were single (about fifty aviaries) and desperate for company which I thought very sad. There were two nice Cassowary, housed together and living amicably. Both males I think.
There was some labelling. English and Thai but no more. This was not the worst zoo I have seen on this trip but it was a long way from what I would consider acceptable. It would not be impossible to, quite cheaply, improve the conditions for the stock here. In fact one knowledgeable keeper in one month with the funds could really make a difference.
After walking around the zoo four times looking for something I liked I was about to give up. It was then that I spotted the benches. Most all of them were sponsored. So the idea of sponsorship is alive and kicking. Good. It just now needs to be transferred to the aviaries themselves and so make life just that bit more comfortable for the inmates. Better still, knock
the whole place down and start again.
I left the zoo and wandered around the park. Here I met my first surprise. This was a substantially fenced, long and large enclosure. It had been divided in two but, as far as I could see held a single male Muntjac. It had obviously been designed as a home to many more. Where they were was mystery number one.
Mystery number two was the next enclosure. This was an absolutely huge and very strongly built walk through aviary. I have seen some really big ones in Thailand and this was on a par with these if not the biggest. It was an irregular shape and I walked right around. I took rough measurements of two sides and these were 184 and 156 metres and 14 metres high. A massive aviary. Lushly planted. Raised walkways and observation platforms, truly a construction to be proud of. The entrance itself was impressive and bore the legend 'Hat Yai Bird Park', but it was empty! There had not been any birds in there for a long time, if ever. It didn't look like any human had entered for an age either. Why? I have no idea. This mighty waste of space is now starting to show its age, however long that may be. Ten years, more perhaps. If I had any say in the matter I would take all the birds from the poxy little zoo and let them go in here. Let them establish a pecking order. It could only be an improvement on where they are now.
I can't draw to save my life. I wish I could. What the zoo world needs is a series of simple language free 'comics' which show 'what a bird needs to be happy***', 'what a palm civet needs to be happy' and so on. Okay it wouldn't change the people who don't give a damn but it would help those who do.
* I eventually researched and learned more about Sharks Fin and Birds Nests.
**There was a photo and small article in 'The Straits Times' of a 50 year old Estuarine crocodile being moved at the HB Crocodile Park in Pantal Cahaya Bulan in Kelantan. This animal was 4.9 metres long and weighed a ton. Off to a new home in Langkawi. I eventually saw the biggest in the world, albeit a hybrid at Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo.
***I know that there are those who would argue that 'happiness is not a scientific term'. To me though that is crap because if you work in a zoo and don't know when your animals aren't happy then you shouldn't be working in a zoo.
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