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Songkhla zoo is the largest zoo in the South of Thailand and is the best place to see zoo animals in the area. It is a relatively new collection having first opened its gates to the public in 1989. It is one of the very few Thai zoos which are members of the Zoological Park Organisation and as such sets itself apart from the purely exploitative commercial collections which are so common in the country. Songkhla has committed itself to a genuine conservation role and does have educational input.
The collection covers around 145 hectares and houses about 160 species. The zoo is an uphill trip out of the town and so gives some beautiful views down and out over the sea.
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.
Songkhla Zoo Map
Saturday 6th May 2006
I am quite sorry to be leaving the 'Lucky resort'. It was everything I wanted it to be. Except the food perhaps. I have not eaten anything memorable at any of the places I have visited on the island. Why 'Lucky'? Well, on the island there are three double coconut palms. So important are these that they are a tourist attraction and get special mentions on maps. The 'Lucky' resort is the only place to have a triple tree! I am not sure how such freaks occur. The tree here only divides into three at about 15' up the trunk. Perhaps it was struck by lightening at some time or the top was blown off. Odd. All three divisions seem to produce nuts.
Mostly I am going to miss the hammock, the seclusion, the snorkeling .
So tonight I hang my hat in Hat Yai (appropriate name, don't you think?). Another epic journey. Left the Lucky resort at 6.15 and after one ferry, one bus, three pickups and a minibus I got to the 'Louise Guesthouse' at a little after five. There were points along the way when I thought I would not make it, the driving being so erratic. I met a lovely Finnish girl, Charlotte, on the boat and travelled with her as far as here. She carried on to Kuala Lumpur though so must have had at least another ten hours on the road. Interesting thing I learnt from Charlotte was that although she was Finnish she did not speak the language. She lived on an island close to Stockholm in Sweden and although it belonged to Finland everyone spoke Swedish so she never learnt. The world is full of these curious little political, linguistic and religious quirks. It makes it all so fascinating. Here in Hat Yai, it is so different to everywhere else I have been in Thailand so far. Both the countryside and the people. A lot will be because it is a border town.
There is already a strong Muslim presence, Indian and Chinese too. I had a bit of an explore around the block tonight and got a bit of culture shock after the island.... Mr Donut and KFC. Aaagh! Still, you know what they say.
A Canadian guy travelling on the bus with me was going down to Kuala Lumpur to get some money. He and a group of friends were staying on one of the islands in some posh resort. When they came to use their cash cards they found they would not work because they had kept them in their wallets next to their room key card. Somehow the magnetic field had cancelled out the cash card. So they pooled what little money they had together to send this guy out to Malaysia to get more funds. It is a point to keep in mind should I ever stay in a flash hotel.
Sunday 7th May 2006
This morning I made my way out to Songkhla zoo. This is situated in a forested hilly 360 acre setting overlooking the city and sea in the distance. The views are spectacular as are the gardens and natural woodland. There are good paved roads throughout and the option exists to 'drive and park' in most locations. There are good neat paths all over though some odd locations these are broken and highly dangerous. There are food and soft drink outlets at convenient spots and many picnic areas. Sadly there was a lot of rubbish too. This I thought unusual for Thailand. It is not for the want of litter baskets for there were many about (usually there are none but still no litter). I did note on the drive to the zoo that there was more rubbish at the roadside too. Something about South Thailand perhaps.
The Ewoks appear to have had a major role to play in the design and building of this zoo. There is evidence of their input everywhere, they even left one of their castles behind. Sorry... I can live with this type of stuff, but I don't like it. The zoo was, on the whole, not bad. I think it let itself down in failure to maintain. There was building going on and dismantling as well but a distinct lack of repair. There were empty enclosures with no explanation. The very first enclosure I came to was mixed aquatic and land tortoises. There was no water provided. There was nowhere for water to go. They had recently been fed. There was fresh fruit on an aluminium tray. There was no food for the aquatic tortoises. Maybe the species were entirely frugivorous and fed out of water. I don't know and I suppose it is just possible, but water they need to fulfil their natural functions. Right next to this freshly supplied fruit was a dead tortoise. Smelling, rotting, seeping. Definitely dead more than 24 hours. That first impression set the scene for me and I could see evidence of keeper neglect just about everywhere I went. Not the keepers fault. Someone needs a good kick in the pants further up the ladder because this zoo could be very good.
The signs were nice. Engraved metal, so they should last a while. English and scientific names as well as detail in Thai. Missing maps though.
The bear enclosures were excellent. The Asiatic Blacks in particular I would give nine out ten. Ten out of ten if there is an enrichment programme. The lion and tiger enclosures were nice even though they were too small. An apparently happy marriage of gunnite, glass and stainless steel. Nicely planted too. Each pen had a pulley running over the top of the pen as part of some enrichment device. Good! So they know about it. It just needs to filter to all the little guys too. I really don't know why they provided the cats with so little space when they have so much land available to them. Here, like the hippos and rhinos they seemed to be spending more money on the public side of the enclosure with shade and paths than the enclosures themselves. No less important I know but they know about space as they demonstrate that at the bears and others. The Chimpanzee and Orangutans enclosures were a bit small too (much bigger than Dusit though) but with an abundance of ropes and climbing apparatus. It was only possible to view the chimps from a distance though, one path being closed to the public, and I could see why too. A male immediately spotted me as the only Westerner in the distant crowd and let me know if I was within throwing distance that he would hit me.
The Giraffe enclosure I liked. Big enough and busy. Not just a flat bare plain. Why there wasn't a barrier right around I have no idea but the bull giraffe had parked himself in the moat right next to the wall. His belly level with our ground level. Everybody was stroking and patting him and he was loving every bit of attention he was getting. Not an ounce of evil in this beast. I like giraffes and I know that everyone who patted this animal today was going to go home liking them too. So, in a way I was glad the barrier was missing and he truly could be a memorable ambassador for his species.
The elephant enclosure was a gem. Large, hilly, uphill and down dale. Mud wallow, walls to rub on, lots of vegetation. The haha base had concrete pyramids in it to prevent access. The haha was further protected by a strand of electric fence. All good then... but no. There was no evidence to suggest that the single animal had wandered anywhere in this enclosure in a long time. It was chained on a concrete apron further up the hill. There was another chaining point next to the mud wallow. Not much of a life there!
Songkhla Zoo Video
Why is it that I am always drawn to the condition of accommodation of palm and other civets? Well I think they are perhaps one of the best indicators of the well being of animals within the whole zoo. If the zoo can do good for the little guys then the collection as a whole will be good. So here they had the up, but not enough of it. The cages were too small and whereas there was wood to climb it was unidirectional and insufficient. Where these exhibits really let themselves down was water. There wasn't any. They had nothing to drink. The large Indian Civet's water dish was full of shit and had not been cleaned for days. The other animals on this block, the Prevosts, the Marten, the Malayan Porcupines were all just as badly off. Needs a re-think and in the meantime a husbandry overhaul.
There was a nice multi-level walk through aviary. Sadly some levels were closed off and besides there were very few birds. Having walked around the other aviaries it struck me that this place really needed a bird keeper and like, yesterday, so there could have been input on aviary design. Most were too small and dark and were dull and unattractive. A bit of maginative perching and planting could transform appearance.
Education? They have apparently informative signage, though I could not read it. I was unaware of any other approaches in this field. There was a 'seal' show which I did not hang about to watch as I had a lot of ground to cover.
Conservation? I don't know. No one zoo can conserve alone. If I just take the 'Ewok' design as a clue then this zoo has definite connections to other Thai zoos. I only paid 100 Baht to get in. Locals were paying much less. So this was not a rip off, get as much cash as we can sort of place like Chiang Mai Night Safari or Safari World outside of Bangkok.
Research? Who knows? I saw no evidence of this.
Enrichment? Yes it is needed everywhere. The seed of the science is there, it just needs to hatch. Static none changing enrichment like ropes or pulley or pole feeding simply becomes part of the no less important cage furniture and daily routine. Enrichment needs a constant imaginative changeable application.
All in all I quite liked this place. Like I keep saying to myself, it is the easiest thing in the world to criticise. My visits are short 'one offs'. I wasn't there last week, nor will I be next. I am unaware of the facts, the politics or the financial situation.
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