The legendary Singapore Zoo describes itself as a ‘total ecological adventure’, with over 2800 animals across 26 hectares. Opened first in 1973 thanks to a $9million grant from the Government of Singapore, the Zoo has gone from strength to strength since then, and increased the number of species in their care by nearly 250.
What makes it special?
I previously mentioned that the sign of a good enclosure is that it reflect a species natural habitat as closely as possible, and it is not obvious to visitors the animal is in an exhibit. Singapore Zoo have taken this to heart, with an immersive experience from start to finish which has led to them being regaled as pioneers of the Zoological world. In 1990, they became the first Zoo to successfully breed a Polar Bear in the tropics and have had great success with other captive breeding programmes, with over 100 births in 2014. Since the annual Singapore Tourism Awards were set up in 1985, the Zoo has won Best Leisure Attraction Experience nine times.
Who isn’t?! Troops of monkeys of all breeds swing overhead while carnivores regally prowl their exhibits. A smattering of the reptiles missed by the previous sites make an appearance, and the site is comprehensively split by region, with an impressive proportion of the world accounted for.
With over 40 shows, feeding sessions and rides, you could visit Singapore Zoo every day for a week and still find something new to see each week. ‘Splash Safari’ stars the resident sea lion, ‘Elephants at Work and Play’ present the elephants and the special bond they have with their Mahouts, and the ‘Animal Friends Show’ includes a few domestic critters showing off various talents. Finally there is the ‘Rainforest Fights Back’ show, which uses the help of Otters, Macaws, Monkeys and others to illustrate the massive effects of deforestation within their natural habitats.
Once again, first impressions speak volumes; we walked into the zoo facedown in our maps and caught a glimpse of movement to our right. The trees we thought were merely decoration actually host a family of Tamarin Monkeys! Singapore Zoo does not have exhibits in the typical way, glass barriers and mesh walls are avoided here. It’s an incredible, intimate way of seeing the animals, and makes it a far more natural environment for them as well.
The massive Hamadryas Baboon exhibit was a particular highlight, with a huge troop of the primates with the freedom and space to forage and interact as they would in the wild. The orangutans dotted around the park have a designated area in which they stay and feed, but with a large space to roam around within that. Of the many animals we viewed, we only saw stereotypic behaviours in the Polar Bear.
We attended the ‘Elephants at Work and Play’ show with some trepidation, aware of the issues with lack of public awareness and mistreatment of elephants in Asia. We were very pleasantly surprised, none of the elephants were pushed into behaviours they weren’t happy to do, and while the skills they used were in a fabricated environment or tweaked for entertainment purposes, there were no behaviours that were unnatural or forced. The elephant care and understanding has come a long way since the zoo opened and the presenter acknowledged this, and the positive reinforcement from the Mahouts was encouraging to see.
No zoo is perfect, and there were a couple of points which were a disappointment. White tigers aren’t actually a species in their own right and aren’t found in the wild, instead it’s a genetic mutation which has been inbred in captivity for aesthetic purposes, and comes with a host of other defects including club feet, spinal and organ deformities. It was a shame to see these animals on show, however beautiful they may be.
The Cheetah was in a lovely exhibit with plenty of space, but somewhat unwisely places opposite the Zebras, which judging by the way he was fixatedly staring at them must have been quite frustrating for him, not to mention a bit disquieting for the poor Zebra!
The enclosures on a whole were absolutely spectacular, with the sad exception of the Polar Bear. Inuka has been with the zoo since his birth, and while Singapore Zoo has come on leaps and bounds since then, disappointingly the Polar Bear den hasn’t. At all. A brown concrete floor with a little layering, thick walls and glass barriers were actually used here and the poor bear was left with nothing to do except circle miserably and repetitively round his little box. It was heart breaking to see, especially thinking this is all the poor guy has known for 27 years. While it seems the zoo are not intending on continuing to keep Polar Bears after Inuka, this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be given the amazing care he needs to flourish the best he can in a zoo environment.
If these issues could be amended and brought up to the standard of the other exhibits, it would cement Singapore Zoo’s position as one of the most amazing, pioneering Zoos worldwide.
Spotlight on: Javan Langur
Habitat: Javan Langurs reside within forests on the Indonesian island of Java, with subspecies on Bali and Lombok islands.
Lifespan: average in the wild is around 20 years, the oldest recorded captive Javan Langur was 31.
Diet: primarily leaves and flowers, with some unripened fruits and seeds.
Size: their bodies are around 55cm in length, while tails can stretch to 87cm.
Conservation Status and Threats: Vulnerable. Deforestation and hunting are major threats. They are at also at risk from the pet trade locally, with many being tied to posts or caged alone, while being fed an inappropriate, dangerous diet.
- The name ‘Langur’ means ‘long-tail’ in Hindi, which is fitting as their tail is more than 1.5x the length of their body!
- Javan Langurs are distinguishable from other Langurs by the lion-like fluffy mane around their face
- They have a four chambered stomach, and enlarged salivary glands to help them digest their heavily fibrous food.
- While adults can be black or orange, all babies are born a bright apricot colour, which ensures they can be seen by the rest of their group and protected at all times.
Find out more: www.aspinallfoundation.org