Elanor is easily made happy. Being allowed to walk around, pointing at “Zebs, mon-KEES, and RAWRS (Lions)”, some KFC, and a water park…what more do you need in life? She’s lucky, then, that all that and more can be found at the Singapore Zoo. Luckily, Ravi and I are also pretty big zoo fans ourselves, and are generally happy to indulge her. Although it’s a bit remote (no MRT stop nearby, and I had to take 3 buses and over an hour the one time I attempted it via public transit….do yourself a favor and pay for the cab), it is a world class zoo and something no one should miss.
As a heads up, pictures in this post might have been taken at any number of trips between February (when we did our pre-acceptance visit) and yesterday, so Elanor’s age will not be consistent.
The Singapore Zoo (not to be confused with the Singapore Night Safari-an entirely separate zoo next door, or the Jurong Bird Park-a bird specific zoo) is a huge, open concept zoo. The designers have minimized bars and barriers (beyond safety specific ones, of course) and the keepers try to interact as little as possible with the animals directly to create as comfortable and natural a habitat as possible. This has resulted in things like the “Free Ranging Orang Utans exhibit, which is comprised of a central ground space for the Orang Utans and then branching out in the tree tops surrounding the ground space…at times the Orang Utans are literally walking over your head. But when free-ranging, there are humane and quiet disincentives for the Orang Utans to leave the trees, keeping it safe for the tourists. At the tiger exhibit (another big draw, especially at the daily 2:20 feeding time), the three tigers have both land and water to hang out in (I had no idea tigers loved to swim!). Some exhibits (like the Kangaroo exhibit in Australia) mix friendly animal types, and others do not.
There’s a tram with 4 (maybe more) stops throughout the park. It’s a nice ride, but with a toddler, you need to remove them from the stroller, and then expect them to sit still with you between stops, so we don’t often take it. If you do take it, however, they have a fairly good script to learn more about the animals and to see the majority of the park without the giant hike it otherwise can be.
There are multiple shows every day, some with performing animals (Rainforest Strikes Back-which I’ve still yet to see, Splash Safari-with sea lions and other aquatic animals, The Elephant Working Show, and the Pet show-which is new and we haven’t seen yet either), and they also have scheduled feedings of a number of animals throughout the day. The biggest draw is the Tigers (at 2:20), but there are also Pgymy Hippo feedings, Rhino Feedings, Jaguar feedings, and many others. There are opportunities to interact with the animals, such a feeding a Rhino (daily at 1 and 4) or to have your picture with them (either with the birds, or several Orang Utans), or riding an Elephant (or a pony if you’re a kid). If you’re really lucky, you may just walk past the elephants when they’re painting works of art you can buy in the gift shop.
The keepers also specialize, and are often by the exhibits several times a day to talk to tourists. When we visited on April 30th, it was just 2 days after a baby zebra had been born. I had the chance to talk to the keeper at length, who told me about how they (medically) deal with a pregnancy, how the baby had been born (the mom jumped a barrier and spent the night pacing in the ditch between the exhibit and the pedestrians so she could give birth alone), how they coaxed them back into the exhibit (very carefully), and that they didn’t know what the sex of the baby was yet (as they do very little medical testing/intervention if they don’t need to).
Being a major zoo, the Singapore Zoo is full up to the brims with adorable zoo babies at this time of year. From the baby zebra to the twin cotton top tamarinds to the itsy bitsy orang utans, if you’re gooey for babies…you’ll love April-August at the zoo.
Food options are only just okay. Outside the main gate is a bit of a food court, so you could always leave the zoo and then go back in. But inside the zoo, there’s a KFC and Ben & Jerry’s inside Kidzworld, and a restaurant called “Ah Mengs.” KFC is what you’d expect. Ah Meng tries to have various kinds of food available (vegetarian, non veg, western, asian, etc) and it’s ok, but it’s not great. Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever had “good” zoo food. Ah Meng is named after an Orang Utan of the same name, who was a long time fixture at the zoo, and was even presented with a special tourism award. She passed away a few years ago, but is buried in a special garden at (Lookout Point) with a bronze statue to commemorate her (statue not pictured..apparently, I’ve never taken a photo of it).
I’ve been a regular visitor for 5 months and I’m still finding new exhibits, or new things to photograph. Yesterday, during E’s nap, I spent some time in the tropical garden with the plants and the orchids, and I’ve still yet to see every single exhibit.
If you have an older person with you, there are scooters to rent by the entrance. However, don’t be shocked when they’re all being driven around the park by young people with no obvious need to use them other than they’re cool and keep you from walking so much.
All but a tree-top walk are accessible by stroller, including underwater viewing areas for the Pgymy Hippo and the Polar Bear (although the Polar Bear is being moved to the new “River Safari” Zoo opening in 2012, and the exhibit is currently closed) If you have a walking child, you need to be mindful of the trams, but there are clearly marked “sidewalks” as well. In general though, it’s a great place to run a toddler with an overabundance of energy around.
Things that E especially loves are the buttons at the Tiger exhibit (they push the button and you hear different Tiger noises…Elanor has gotten into squabbles with her friends over who got to push the buttons, so keep an eye on them!), watching the Orangutans, the Flamingos (the “Mingos” according to E), and the Zebras (Zebah’s).
But beware that there are forces far more insidious at work…somehow, kids all are magnetically drawn to the back right corner of the zoo…to KidzWorld.
Kidzworld has pony rides and a carousel. It has ice cream. It has rabbits. It has KFC. It has…let’s cut to the chase…
THIS is where the party lives, in most kid’s opinions. A mom I talked to yesterday told me her kids ask to NOT see the animals and just come straight to the water park. E has thrown many a tantrum over leaving.
Basically it is a large area with water spraying, falling or spurting from a bunch of structures and sources. The middle is a calf deep (for an adult) wading pool in the midst of all that. There is a giant structure with small and mid-sized water slides. Kids can pull/push a bunch of things to create or aim water. You will both be soaked. Every 10 or so minutes, the giant bucket on top of the biggest structure fills, a bell rings and it pours (see the first of the Kidzworld shots) creating a giant momentary waterfall–seeing kids react to that bell like Pavlov’s dogs is entertaining–they drop everything and RUN to be showered. Elanor isn’t quite brave enough to go there yet, but she stops, watches and cheers each time. Bring changes of clothes for everyone.
As a heads up–the place is packed on weekends, and if you have younger children, be very careful to keep an eye on them as many parents don’t bother and things can get a little “Lord of the Flies” in there.
If you live in Singapore, save yourself the time and effort and just buy the annual membership. They’ll give you a half priced membership for your helper. I’ve had my membership only 5 months and it’s already paid for itself.
Long long entry short—The Singapore Zoo is a can’t miss attraction if you’re a visitor, and if you’re a local (especially with a kid) there’s no reason not to have a membership. This is truly one of the best zoos in the world.
Your reward for reading this long essay? As I promised before, I did make a point of taking some pictures of the “open air” bathrooms.