Smil­ing ele­phants, 600 pink flamin­gos, a po­lar bear in the trop­ics — just another day at Sin­ga­pore zoo.

The Philippine Star - - SUNDAY LIFESTYLE - By CHONX TIBAJIA Wildlife Re­serves Sin­ga­pore is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Sin­ga­pore that man­ages Sin­ga­pore Zoo, River Sa­fari, Night Sa­fari, and Jurong Bird Park. It of­fers tourist tours as well as ed­u­ca­tional pack­ages un­der its Liv­ing Class­rooms

S IN­GA­PORE — The days al­ways start out in­ter­est­ingly enough. On day one, I find my­self seated right next to a ta­ble of orangutans at break­fast. Orangutans, real ones, with bet­ter man­ners than some hu­mans, swing from a tree branch and onto a wooden plat­form to pa­tiently wait for their meal. They eat peace­fully with­out disturbing oth­ers, with­out mak­ing ran­dom noises while their mouths are full, be­ing so­cial within proper bound­aries. A big one taps a younger one’s head while he scarfs down a bowl of fruit. Hu­mans take pho­tos of ev­ery sin­gle move they make, self­ies with them in the back­ground, some­one for­gets to turn off the flash and still the orangutans re­main un­fazed. Here, they are celebri­ties — to­tal pros — who nei­ther ham it up for the cam­eras nor hide from them. They keep their calm and carry on, just a day in the life at the zoo — if you can even call it that.

My idea of a zoo comes from my last mem­ory of vis­it­ing one. It was some­time be­tween be­ing in­ducted into Girl Scouts and shav­ing my eye­brows out of cu­rios­ity for the first time — a long time ago. I re­mem­ber the earth be­ing dry and crack­led, and see­ing an ele­phant and re­al­iz­ing that his skin looked ex­actly like the ground. The lion wouldn’t come out of its makeshift cave. The os­trich was too proac­tive for my lik­ing. And there were flies, which is never a good sign. “An­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity,” a phrase that I hear a lot on this trip, seemed like the best way to de­scribe their sit­u­a­tion. If it’s not a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence for us, it can’t be so pleas­ant for them.

After be­ing zoo- free for years, Wildlife Re­serves Sin­ga­pore takes me to not one, not two, but four des­ti­na­tions full of an­i­mals. The group runs Sin­ga­pore Zoo, River Sa­fari, Jurong Bird Park, and Night Sa­fari, which al­to­gether take

Wildlife Re­serves

Sin­ga­pore's open-con­cept parks al­low en­dan­gered species to roam freely within their habi­tat — and yeah, you can walk right along­side them.

up quite a mas­sive piece of land that has been de­signed, land­scaped and nur­tured to recre­ate con­di­tions in the wild. Sin­ga­pore Zoo, which we visit on the first day of the tour, cov­ers 26 hectares and is home to over 2,800 an­i­mals. Among th­ese an­i­mals is the orang­utan, the zoo’s flag­ship species, which are housed in the world’s first free- rang­ing in- zoo orang­utan habi­tat. Over two days we ex­plore the four zoos, get up close and per­sonal with the an­i­mals, and even go be­hind the scenes. ( We visit the zoo in­fir­mary — an adorable con­cept, I know — a. k. a. the Wildlife Health­care and Re­search Cen­ter, a $ 3.6 mil­lion fa­cil­ity that han­dles the se­ri­ous med­i­cal business of the an­i­mals, and the Bird Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter, where we get to meet a gen­der­less, daysold white cock­a­too — the species only re­veals gen­der a year after birth, through eye color.)

Sin­ga­pore Zoo, as well as WRS’s other fa­cil­i­ties, is fa­mous for its “open con­cept” rain­for­est en­vi­ron­ment, which means an­i­mals are free to roam within their “habi­tat.” Th­ese habi­tats in­clude Frag­ile For­est where there are sloths, le­murs, fly­ing foxes, and bats as big as cats, the Great Rift Val­ley of Ethiopia, Ele­phants of Asia, and Aus­tralian Out­back.

On day two, it rains in the rain­for­est. Lunch is served at Jurong Bird Park home to 5,000 birds from 380 species, at a restau­rant that over­looks a pond with over 600 pink flamin­gos ( you can’t sit with them, even if it’s not Wed­nes­day). Of course, some­one no­tices two out of the 600 are mat­ing — and we con­sider it an omen of good luck. Later on we meet three baby flamin­gos that look more like os­triches. They are born gray and de­velop their pink tint as they age. The day would be pep­pered with trivia like this as the group ex­plores the Breed­ing and Re­search Cen­ter, African Wa­ter­fall Aviary, Pen­guin Coast, Bird Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre, Lory Loft, Pel­i­can Cove, and Birds of Prey. The birds are cap­tive born, or ac­quired through con­ser­va­tion and re­search pro­grams with other zoo fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing Avilon Zoo in Rizal, Philip­pines.

Come night­fall, we head to the Night Sa­fari, a 35-hectare sec­ondary for­est that holds over 2,500 an­i­mals of 130 species, 38 per­cent of which are en­dan­gered. The park is an 11-time awardee of Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board’s Best At­trac­tion cat­e­gory and re­ceives over 1.1 mil­lion vis­i­tors ev­ery year. Thirty-five min­utes on the tram that takes us around seven ge­o­graphic re­gions — sur­rounded by pitch black on the week be­fore Hal­loween — can get a lit­tle spooky, as if the idea of be­ing sur­rounded by an­i­mals in an open en­vi­ron­ment isn’t enough to put one on edge. Our Filipino guide, Roy Fabi, op­er­a­tions ex­ec­u­tive of Night Sa­fari, as­sures us that it’s com­pletely safe. “The an­i­mals are well-fed. They won’t eat you,” he says, and ex­plains that the dens are de­signed strate­gi­cally. For ex­am­ple, a canal that’s not vis­i­ble from the road fences some dens.

Night Sa­fari’s iconic an­i­mal is Asian bull ele­phant Chawang, who has sired four calves so far, un­der the park’s breed­ing pro­grams that con­trib­ute to the global pop­u­la­tion of en­dan­gered species. The moon is full and his tusks seem to glow in the dark. Cap­tive breed­ing is one of its fo­cus ar­eas, in line with its mis­sion to pro­mote di­ver­sity. Over the years, it has bred Malayan tigers, Asian ele­phants, fish­ing cats, red dholes (a kind of wild dog), clouded leop­ards, anoas (a mid­get buf­falo), markhors (wild goat), ban­tengs (cat­tle), Malayan tapirs (a pig-like her­biv­o­rous mam­mal) and Asian lions.

Be­ing at a zoo brings out the kid in jaded, tired adults. If I came across a meerkat on the street, I would prob­aby run the other way (I mean have you seen them? Terrifying!). But see­ing them in an en­vi­ron­ment they are com­fort­able with, where they are not stressed out by ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sors like strange techno noises, hu­mans who get too close, or ex­treme cli­mate change, you do get to ap­pre­ci­ate them. I guess if I were a fer­ret and I saw my­self on the street, I would freak out and act crazy, too. If you ex­plore the zoo with child­like won­der, you might just get over a pho­bia or two, and come out more sym­pa­thetic to­wards our friends from the wild.

***

Asian Ge­o­graphic

Asian bull ele­phant Chawang is one of Sin­ga­pore Night Sa­fari’s most iconic an­i­mals. He has sired four calves so far un­der the park’s breed­ing pro­gram, con­tribut­ing to the world’s pop­u­la­tion of en­dan­gered species. Pho­tos by JUSTIN ONG,

Jurong Falls is one of the world’s tallest man-made wa­ter­falls at over 30 me­ters.

The Lory Loft at Jurong Bird Park is the world’s largest walk-in flight aviary for lo­ries. Feed­ing the birds is a popular ac­tiv­ity at this at­trac­tion.

There are over 600 flamin­gos at Jurong Bird Park, lo­cated at Jurong Hill, Sin­ga­pore, about one hour away from the city.

It may be dark, but noc­tur­nal crea­tures like the hip­popota­mus and th­ese li­onesses are al­ways in the spot­light.

There are pen­guins at Jurong Bird Park (and there is a po­lar bear at Sin­ga­pore Zoo). Their dens are de­signed and land­scaped to mimic their nat­u­ral habi­tat.

About eight meerkats live in this lit­tle log. Just about ev­ery kid — and adult — yelled “Ti­mon!” as they came out to play.

At Sin­ga­pore Zoo, you can have break­fast with orangutans and they wouldn’t bother you at all — most likely, you’ll bother them.

This panda may look lonely and sad, but it’s ac­tu­ally just re­ally full. We saw it eat bam­boo leaves off its own stom­ach. Adorable on pan­das, not so on hu­mans.

This adorable creature is called “lesser panda” or the red cat-bear. I don’t think it’s in­fe­rior in any way.

A herd of ze­bras grazing in Sin­ga­pore Zoo’s Wild Africa ex­hibit.

The gen­der of a white cock­a­too can only be de­tected through the color of its eyes, which de­vel­ops only a year after birth.

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