Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Natural Zoo (Singapore)

I have always had mixed feelings about zoos trying to balance the feelings of seeing magnificent animals in restricted sad cages against the beneficial scientific and conservation activities that many conduct. As an individual visitor it can be a chance to see, experience, watch, learn from and photograph in real life some of the planet’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring creatures – some of those almost impossible to see in their natural habitat. Equally it can be the chance to see disenchanted, constrained animals living in unnatural areas.

By far the best zoo I have visited is Singapore Zoo. With natural barriers such as moats, ditches and waterways replacing the usual bars and barriers for most displays (a few still have glass), the zoo has an open harmonious feel to it. Displays are thoughtfully landscaped and more generously sized and there is a general mood of satisfied, contented animals throughout the zoo.

Like all zoos, there are a number of highlight displays. Singapore Zoo boasts an impressive primate collection including a wide variety of monkeys, lemurs, chimpanzees, mandrills and the endangered golden lion tamarin (with its striking facial features) which are spread over a couple of island with a variety of forests, bamboos and grasses. A large group of endangered orang-utans have a large expanse of trees, ropes, vines and platforms to keep them entertained on a carefully designed island of their own.

Over fifty Hamadryas Baboons from Ethiopia live in one of the most impressive displays simulating the harsh deserts and the rocky escarpments of Ethiopia which they so nimbly access, climb and clamber for key strategic positions. The area is a riot of noisy screeches, clouds of dust, sharp dashing movements, revenge attacks, peaceful gazing and cautious grooming. As in the wild, caring mothers piggy-back their youngsters from the slightest hint of danger while young males stage mock fights in preparation for more senior roles.

The zoo also houses a rich collection of cats including lions, leopards, pumas and jaguars. Most notable are three white tigers (not albinos) which only occur in nature around 1 in 10,000 births. Similarly rare king cheetahs which have a different pattern to the normal spots (caused by a recessive gene and mainly bred in captivity) are included among the cheetahs. With bigger areas and more natural settings, some were tricky to spot highlighting the impressive camouflage techniques of these large felines. Nearby are a number of traditional African animals such as giraffes, zebras, white rhinos, hippos, warthog and antelope.

Though heavy on air-conditioning, iced water pools and large lumps of ice, the idea of a polar bear display in a tropical zoo is questionable. The display is cleverly designed so that you can watch these bears both above and below water, polar bears being impressive and powerful swimmers (a similar method is used with the hippos). Live fish and food frozen into ice is included in their diet to maintain some natural instincts. Being a hot, humid day when I was there, these majestic animals appeared completely sapped of energy.

Though I didn’t visit the area as I have seen them all back home, the zoo features an extensive and popular Australian zone including kangaroos, wallabies and emus (though no koalas), along with the usual collection of Australian lizards, snakes, spiders and other weird creepy-crawlies. The world’s most venomous snake – the taipan – is included though safely stored behind glass.

There are numerous other animals on display from butterflies and birds to reptiles and Asian elephants. It is easy to spend a rewarding full day wandering the paths and tracks (see map) either enjoying the posted feedings spread throughout the day or simply watching the wide variety of nature’s kingdom in what is surely one of the finest zoo settings of any. To escape the harsh Singapore humidity, there are plenty of places to sit and simply enjoy the animals at play. Attached to the zoo is a Night Safari but that is a story for another day.

Other SE Asia Posts
Breakfast at the Floating Markets (Thailand)
The Intrigue of Thai Massage(Thailand)
The Petronas Towers (Malaysia)


Anil said...

I agree, it's a tough call on zoos. Sometimes I think they're a necessary evil - not to say they're all evil or bad but many of the animals have it rough in the wild from human actions.

Btw, that baboon's upright stance is pretty impressive. So strikingly like our species.

Cecil Lee said...

You are a true world traveler! Which part of the world that you've not been to... I'm curious :)
I've hear long enough that Singapore Zoo is one of the best in the world, but I've still not been to... what a shame.

Cuckoo said...

I agree with Anil. The baboon looks so human. :-)

Majority of zoos across the world are where the inhabitants are tortured by us for a little fun. We should learn to keep them in as natural surroundings as possible. Of course not at our cost !

Heather Dugan ("Footsteps") said...

Zoos should be a controversial topic. Most have come a long way in the past ten or twenty years, but there will always be room for improvement and innovation.
Perhaps I've been spoiled by the generously-sized habitats at the zoos we've visited, but I see zoos in a mostly positive light. The best ones are quite serious and productive in achieving their goals of preservation, propagation and education. Without education and visibility, I think our societal goals toward wildlife preservation would falter against numerous and often conflicting economic goals.

Mark H said...

@anil: Zoos might be worth a psot by themselves. I've seen good and bad.

@cecil: The best one I've been to.

@cuckoo: The baboon is human-like. They are amazing. I'd love to see them in Borneo.

@heather: I continue to question them as we all should, but lean towards their value at present. They teach preservation and good behaviours among kids which is a positive thing and do advance scientific understanding. But I've seen some upsetting things at zoos too - especially animals in clearly restricted areas and cages.

Andrea said...

Zoos play an extremely important role in the conservation and protection of endangered species.

Animals such as those beautiful white tigers would never survive in the wild so the zoo has a role to play there also.

Mark H said...

@andrea: Zoos certainly do a good job in conservation and preservation of endangered species and should rightly be commended for such efforts. Some of the breeding programs between zoos are outstanding and have greatly assisted in growing the dwindling numbers.

Skylab said...

Ah i was just there a few days ago for the night one. Not bad but I did have the same views as you.

Sherry said...

Heading to Singapore again soon. The Zoo there is really great as far as zoos go - AND they have a very unique Night Safari. Mark - did you go on that? It's a way to see the animals at night (sounds strange - but promise me - they are out 'hunting' at that time). I thought it was a unique idea as I don't know any other zoos that offer a night viewing of the animals!

Perth Hotels said...

Zoo is part of every child's life. It makes them happy and learn more about the animals and how they would protect them. Let's start protecting the wildlife and let's start introducing it to our children.

Mark H said...

@skylab: I've not been to the night safari.

@sherry: I've not tries the night safari but it gets excellent reviews.

@perth hotels: Zoos do a great job preserving endangered animals and introducing decent animal care to youngsters.

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