The Singapore Zoo
Singapore Zoo is a beautiful zoo and is justifiably an extremely popular destination for visitors to Singapore. Singapore is a stop off point for travelers moving on from Europe to Hong Kong, China, Australia and New Zealand. It is also an important hub within Asia. The Singapore zoo is well marketed, on established tours, easy to reach and definitely worth a visit.
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/travel article. The only major edits I have done is a little censoring and to remove the Casanova exploits.
This is the first of several visits I have made to Singapore Zoo and this one took place in 2006.
You may recollect what I said about preconceptions in connection with Johor Zoo yesterday. Just the opposite applies here. I have never had anyone say anything negative about this collection*. They are not wrong either. This is one of the most beautiful zoos I have ever visited. No, change that to this is the most beautiful zoo I have ever visited. I put it in my joint number one spot with Sharjah zoo which I like for a variety of different reasons which make a direct comparison impossible.
After I left C. the first enclosure I got to was the Small-clawed otters they were sharing the pen with Binturongs. At first appearance it was just a nice neat active little enclosure with some tasteful planting and a waterfall. This was just the tip of the iceberg though. This was almost the complete enclosure. Round the back was underwater filtered viewing in a sheltered alcove. The signs were all colourful, factual, interesting mind bites. Each related to the animals in a different field like conservation, family, anatomy or range and habitat. They included that all so important map. There were fourteen signs all in all for this one set up. None were obtrusive. This was a nine out of ten enclosure. Brilliant I thought.
A little further on there were the Greater Flamingos. Okay, not the best enclosure in the world, but a nice and attractive one none the less. Unlike practically everywhere else in Asia I have visited here they were not being used as pink ornaments. Here the flight distance and number necessity had been taken into consideration.
The Flamingo area is set behind one of the Gibbon islands. There are lots of primate islands. All of them are very good to excellent. As you are aware I like that overgrown jungly sort of home. Most, but not all are like that. Probably the very best enclosure in the whole zoo for me was that for the Hamadryas Baboons. It was active, interesting and on the go at all times. So well designed too, with viewing and vista points with the full complement of well done educational signs. I could have spent all day at this one enclosure, I should have brought a picnic.
This enclosure was complemented by the presence of the overlooking ibex and several brilliant mini enclosures for Mongoose, Hyrax, and Black-backed Jackal. This whole area was so very good.
Incidentally there are several groups of free ranging exotic primates within the grounds. It was in the tree here that I saw a large group of Saki monkeys.
Singapore zoo may not have the biggest of enclosures but they are well managed. There were some, like the White Rhinos, and the Cheetahs which were a touch too small. Others like the Sun bears and the Guanacos were past their sell by date. But the zoo recognise these problems and are addressing them at a rate that would embarrass other collections. It will be exciting to see what they come up with.
I must admit I have never liked the idea of Polar Bears in a tropical setting. I suppose I could have moaned on about it without even seeing the set up. It works though. At least it does in Singapore. Short of actually building a giant fridge they have done everything to make the animals comfortable. And they have bred here so they must be doing something right. It is an attractive enclosure in its own right but it has a deep, filtered, cool and shaded pool. The outside has cooling mist blowing all the time and there is inside air conditioned accommodation. The public side is very good too. Covered and cool with enough mind bite facts to make sure every visitor who can read goes away just that little bit wiser. There is a coke machine in there (and several other locations) which has a TV on it running a zoo promotion DVD. Lets you see what you shouldn't miss on your visit. I passed through the polar bears several times during the day and did not see any stereotypic behaviour. I am sure it does occur, this being a classic polar bear problem, but it must be less here.
The gardens throughout the zoo are wonderful. In spite of covering an immense area and acting as visual barriers they are a real credit to all involved. Lots of the trees and plants are labelled which makes a visit a botanic journey as well as a zoological one. One feature I was particularly struck with was the Tropical Crops Garden where so many familiar and unfamiliar fruits and veg were 'on the stem' so to speak. The information that went with them was interesting too. Lots if it. I found it fun and fascinating to match up fruit to plant, in some cases with great surprise. I also learnt that Queen Victoria had been a big fan of Mangosteens. I am too.
Singapore Zoo really does go all out for visitor comfort. The roads and paths are all in good repair. After a while I was actually looking for hazards and didn't find any. There are plenty of kiosks and drink dispensers and more than enough benches or sheltered seating areas. Some of these are air conditioned, just in case you were getting too hot. Then there is a road train to get round on with plenty of stopoff/pickup points.
There are presentations and feeding sessions taking place throughout the day. Plenty to keep people occupied and happy. I attended part of one of the animal shows. I didn't see it all but what I did see was, for me, very enjoyable. Set in a sloping theatre with a clear perspex fronted pool being the stage. The water within was crystal clear.
The first 'presentation' was a Crab-eating Macaque which swam to the bottom of the pool to collect grapes from the bottom. A little later a large Reticulated Python was placed in the pool and allowed to swim along the length of the tank. Now for me, who was aware of diving monkeys and swimming pythons and although I have seen this before on TV I found these simple behaviours thrilling to watch. What made it all the better was the enthusiasm and interesting accompanying educational and sometimes humorous commentary. I could not have faulted it. Brilliant! There were a number of other animals involved too. Top marks.
The visitor cannot escape being educated here and the trick is they don't know its happening. It may be as simple as a plant label or as entertaining as a coconut husking competition. (Actually this was watched with such rapt attention by the Orang-utans that it was enriching for them too).
And what about those all too important toilets? Brilliant and beautiful. In fact Singapore zoo has won awards for its toilets. Certainly in my top five of Loo's of the world. I think Chiang Mai Night Safari probably remains in number one slot for attractiveness but Singapore zoo wins by a '__'. Above the urinals, where all sane men fix their eyes, are conservation mind bites. That little bit of concentration always helps. A case of learn whilst you pee. Not original of course as advertisers have being using that space to sell for a long time.
The Manatee enclosure may not be geographically correct, including, as it does, Californian Sea lions and Jackass Penguins but it works. It is beautiful to look at. Water is so important when exhibiting creatures such as these. Anything less than a polished crystalline clarity and more than three quarters of the enclosures appeal has gone. Here it is almost drinkable. The Penguins are indoors with sub aqua access to the main pool. Entry is restricted to the others by the size of the connecting bars. This was another enclosure I could have spent a lot of time at if only to observe the fascinating manatees.
I liked the 'Australian Outback' (designed by Steve Irwin) enclosure. Smaller than some but very good. I wondered, outside of Australia who first came up with the idea of a walk through Kangaroo/Emu type exhibit. Certainly Cleethorpes Zoo and Marineland had one back in the 1960s. Was there one earlier somewhere else?
The Proboscis Monkey set up was another beaut (Australianism). It was though very beautiful to look at and the animals a thrill to watch. This was an active enclosure, naturally enriched by believable habitat imitation.
I liked the 'Fragile Forest'. It was yet another pleasure to visit. Big, thickly planted but exciting. In here are birds, mammals, reptiles and butterflies too.
I don't like White Tigers. True enough, they are beautiful and might be of affable temperament. No, its the fact that they are of no conservation value whatsoever that I don't like. They take up valuable space within a zoo that could be utilised for species that really need attention. Yet I am aware they are popular 'freaks' in any collection and amongst the most popular in Singapore Zoo. If there was just the white tigers and a sign it truly would be a waste of time but it isn't. The maximum is made of the visitors presence by drawing attention to the plight of tigers everywhere, of the trade in tiger parts and of conservation in general. A beautifully made and hard hitting video is constantly being played in the viewing area. This deals not only with tigers but with snow leopards, turtles, sharks and more. There is horrific footage of living sharks having their fins cut off before they are thrown mutilated back to a lingering death in the sea. The commentary is in Chinese, who, after all, are the main consumers. This video in this exhibit will make a difference. You cannot be human and have a heart without it having some effect. Oh, and yes the tiger exhibit is very attractive too. The clear water in the pool again makes all the difference. There are seventeen or so signs here too, all very cleverly done.
Another good example of the arrangements here would be the Malayan Tapir enclosure. The pen itself is not huge nor remarkable but is more than adequate and pleasant to look at. Viewed, under cover, at one point there are three signs. One is an activity game of 'Help the tapir find its cousins' (FUN), then there is 'Hide and Seek' which includes a clever little "can you see it visual" (FUN). Then we have a mind bite in 'Talking Scent' before lastly 'Whistles and clicks' with push button sound (FUN). Moving from this viewing point around the enclosure we meet the adoption sign. All the adoption signs here are attractive. They draw the eye without being garish. I think tasteful is the best description. Close by, where the pen is viewed over a garden moat is the species sign. Attractive and collectable in its own right giving all the relevant detail and two nice drawings of adult and baby tapirs. Sadly there is no distribution map on this one (but they are Malayan Tapirs and this is Singapore). Moving on a little further there is covered viewing next to the pool. Three more signs here. One deals with folklore (FUN), the other two are about coat, lips, nose and conservation. The viewing point has a row of tapir snares hanging up.
So there you go. One enclosure, beautifully done.
Barbirusa. Again a smallish but adequate enclosure. Viewing over a moat and covered viewing area with eight interesting signs, a Barbirusa skull (important - worth a thousand words) and a TV running a behavioural video loop. Great, all tastefully done.
It goes on and on. So many of the enclosures are treated in an equally clever way. I could go round each and every one and probably find something to praise.
I am staying with C whilst I am in Singapore. It seems strange to be in a house again instead of a hostel, guesthouse or hotel. Big comfy bed and my own bathroom. I can also relate to the piles of books and papers around the place, very much like my own house before I sold it to go on the road.
We went out to an Indian restaurant for dinner and over an excellent meal and a jug of tiger beer we talked of old colleagues and shared memories. I laughed until I cried and I have not done that for a long time.
I have never visited Singapore Zoo before today and I was suitably impressed. Just as important as the 'seen' in any zoo is the 'unseen'. Things like species management, research, breeding programmes, enrichment and in situ conservation. I was able to learn from speaking to C of advances made in those areas.
If you have enjoyed reading this article you should move onto the next, entitled ‘Jurong Bird Park ‘ as soon as it is published. Please also check out my blog Zoo News Digest.
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