The Zoos of Singapore Part 1 – Night Safari

Singapore doesn’t do things by halves, as Alex and I learned during our trip in January. Whether it be hotels, gardens or restaurants, Singapore goes above and beyond to give guests the experience of a lifetime, and this extends to Zoos as well.

There are four major Zoos in Singapore, and you can buy a Parkhopper ticket for S$69 (just under £40), or do as we did and top this up to $79 for access to the tram rides and Amazon River Quest as well. The Zoos were such a major part of our stay, and there was so much to see that they really merited a post to themselves, rather than being added to an already extensive sermon of the good and the great in Singapore. I intended to write one concise post including all four of the Zoos… a few thousand words later it was clear that wouldn’t be the case so we now have bitesize chunks for each individual Zoo, with a far more manageable word count!

So here it is; a rundown of each zoo, in the order of which we visited them (no playing favourites), a little bit about what their particular niches, and a spotlight on the animals we really fell in love with along the way.

Night Safari

The Night Safari was the first nocturnal Zoo in the world, opening it’s gates in 1994. The lighting had to be cleverly engineered by London based Simon Corder to resemble moonlight, and be bright enough for visitors to be able to see clearly, but not so bright it disturbs the creatures within the enclosures. The night safari hosts over 1000 animals of various shapes and sizes across its 86 acres.

What makes it special?
The clues in the name with this one, the Night Safari is a unique chance to see nocturnal or crepuscular critters from all over the world, at a time that’s convenient for them for a change. As the first night zoo it paved the way to raising awareness for these guys, and many regular Zoos are now opening their gates of an evening to give visitors a glimpse into the natural behaviour for these animals.

Who’s there?

The Night Safari hosts a great complement of mammals you typically see in a zoo, from feline predators to their vast array of ungulates. Added to these are a fair few you won’t see in typical day Zoos as, well, they’d be asleep all day. Possum, Pangolin, Slow Loris, Badger, Golden Cats and Clouded Leopards to name a few come alive in the early evening, presenting a very rare opportunity to see these guys in action.

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An Owl and Handler stopping to pose

The shows
The Night Safari courts it’s visitors before they’ve even entered the gates, with weekend ‘Thumbuakar’ performances. These fire wielding ‘warriors’ are mercifully kept at a far distance from any of the animals, and conduct an impressive display of flame-throwing stunts.
The ‘Creatures of the Night’ show has a wide array of stars; Otters, Binturongs, Raccoons, African Servals to name a few. Each are brought onto the main stage to display a natural behaviour or two alongside a presenter who gives a profile of each animal, their predatory/survival instincts and their primary threats.

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Huuugee snake during the show

Our thoughts
img_4394While we were sceptical of what place pyro artists had at a zoo, when we got there it made more sense. There’s a cluster of (expensive!) bars and restaurants outside the entrance, and when we got there people had obviously been waiting a while, but thanks to the entertainment there was still an air of excitement. The park cleverly staggers ticket entry times so the shows and team aren’t too congested at any one point, and though the number of visitors must have been in the thousands, we were still able to get exhibits to ourselves. Sadly, this was not the case with the Tiger feeding, which we gave up on due to there being such a small viewing platform and so many people crowding round it. We had more luck with the Lions, and the viewpoint gave us a great view of the enclosure and what the Lions were up to, without being close enough to them that they would be bothered by us. Notably absent are reptiles and insects of any great numbers which was a shame, although the glow in the dark Scorpions were something a bit special.

The ‘Creatures of the Night’ show was an amazing production, with impressive live demonstrations with animals many other Zoos would be unequipped to safely show, such as Serval and Hyena. Again, the animals weren’t forced into doing anything that wasn’t unnatural for them and they were on stage for a short time, and positive reinforcement was clearly in evidence. One of the handlers walked through the aisles with a Bintarong curled around his neck, which again was a bit disappointing in an otherwise very natural animal display.

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Scavenging Raccoon during the ‘Creatures of the Night’ Show

The only thing that really let the park down was the visitors. The show had an excellent focus on the welfare of the animals, and before any critter was brought out the presenter went through (in about ten languages!) the dangers of flash photography for the animals eyesight. Even though each nation gave a cheer when she spoke their language and repeated the words back to her, as soon as the animals came out there was a large smattering of flashes, which continues despite constant requests to stop.

This was an issue all throughout the park, even though there were clear signs everywhere. As evidenced by our attempts, not having a flash doesn’t lead to the best photo, but does it really matter if using it could cause an animal pain?

We loved the Night Safari, and overall the enclosures were fantastic. The sign of a good zoo is that each species’ enclosure is as accurate as possible to their natural habitat and provides opportunities to carry out natural behaviours, and areas to hide from view if they choose, and this was in evidence consistently at the Night Safari. From a guest point of view, success comes if visitors cannot tell they are at a zoo and the natural barriers gave an incredibly immersive feel throughout the park. The animals had huge areas to roam and plenty of opportunities for enrichment and interaction with one another where appropriate. The Night Safari is a great example of what a modern zoo should be.

Spotlight on: Malayan Tapir

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Habitat:
 the only Asian species of Tapir, found on the Malay Peninsular, Southern Thailand and the island of Sumatra, in rainforest areas with plenty of vegetation.
Lifespan: up to 30 years, both in captivity and in the wild
Diet: herbivorous, feeding on grasses, leaves, buds, twigs, water plants and fruit
Size: around 1.8-2.4metres long, and up to 320kg, the females are usually larger than the males
Conservation Status and Threats: Endangered due to deforestation, hunting for sport, food and sometime for their hides and are also sometimes sold illegally as pets. There is estimated to be less than 2000 Tapirs still living in the wild.

Fun Facts:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheir probiscus nose allows them to graze an area 1 foot in diameter without having to move their head. They also use it as a snorkel when swimming.
  • Baby Tapirs have a completely different coat pattern – brown and beige stripes, described by theanimalfacts.com as a watermelon on legs! It isn’t until 4-7 months they take on the black half/white half marking of adults.
  • A group of Tapirs is called a ‘candle’.
  • There have been a very small number of all black (melanistic) Malayan Tapirs observed in the wild, and currently scientists don’t know the reason for this unusual trait.

Find out more: www.tapirs.org

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