The Singapore Zoo

Thomas with a Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur

One of Singapore’s main attractions, which has little to do with shopping, is its world-famous zoo. A far cry from many of the depressing animal parks around the world, the Singapore Zoo, renowned for its design, is a welcome change of scenery. It certainly didn’t take much to lure us wildlife freaks away from the cement jungle for a day at the celebrated park.

What immediately sets the zoo apart is a distinct lack of cages. Free-ranging animals and creative enclosure design immediately make it clear that this is no ordinary zoo. Just as we walked into the zoo-scape, a handful of cotton-top tamarins with white, fluffy Mohawks caught our attention. We moved closer to a lone tree as the little animals scampered down a limb to within inches of our faces – no walls, no bars, no screens.

Cotton-Top Tamarin Singapore Zoo

Suddenly, we heard the high-pitched cries of several siamangs nearby. An elevated wooden walkway led us into the trees from where we could see the spectacle. The surreal hum of the small apes inflating their throat sacks was followed by a banshee-like wail. Like trapeze artists gone wild, the animals chased each other through the tall trees in a daredevil scene of aerial acrobatics. The large enclosure allowed for natural behaviors rarely witnessed in captivity.

After only ten minutes in the park, the uniqueness of the zoo was quite apparent. Although the Singapore Zoo doesn’t have the biggest animal collection, it does have some of the biggest animal enclosures. Lush tropical scenes and well portrayed desert reconstructions reveal how much thought has been put into the park. The white tiger exhibit was a work of art and the free ranging kangaroo exhibit was very impressive.

White Tigers in Singapore Zoo

A few of the primates, such as orangutans and red leaf monkeys, even range across much of the zoo. Trees are connected by ropes and planks and the animals often swing right above visitors’ heads as they move through the park. What keeps animals in the trees, by the way, are thin, electric wires attached to the tree trunks – a kind of cow fence for primates.

While the natural side of the zoo is world class, the animal shows are like rubbing your knuckles across a cheese grater. We could have endured the corny dialog if they had featured more wildlife, but they appeared to be a showcase for bad actors with a few animals thrown in as an afterthought. The only thing we enjoyed about the single show we sat through was that it provided shelter from the downpour outside.

Tony at the Singapore Zoo

A much better way to spend your time is to hang out in your favorite enclosure, especially during feeding. Mine was a large aviary which boasted some unexpected animal life. From an elevated platform at the center, we watched the entertaining feeding frenzy. A moody black-and-white ruffed lemur chased a group of ringtails, flying foxes battled each other over pieces of mango, and different birds swooped down to claim their share. The only peaceful inhabitants seemed to be the butterflies and a herd of mouse deer grazing below.

We could easily have watched for another hour, but after a long and rewarding day, the zoo closed down at 6 PM, and we headed back to the human zoo called downtown Singapore. For anyone with the slightest interest in animals, the Singapore Zoo should definitely be at the top of their itinerary.

Tips for the Singapore Zoo

For 58 Singapore dollars, there’s a combination pass for 3 parks: the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari and the Bird Park. The pass is valid for a month and can save you 12 Singapore dollars. A variety of two-park combination tickets are also available. The opening of the new River Safari is scheduled for 2012, so keep an eye out for new combination tickets in the coming year.

Also, if you want to visit the Night Safari, open from 7:30 PM to 12 AM, be aware that public transportation stops early in Singapore. Considering the 40-minute bus ride from the zoo to the nearest metro stop, and the fact that the last metro train runs at 11:30 PM, visitors will have to leave the Night Safari at around 10:30 PM. Of course, there’s always the taxi, but that adds a lot of cost to your safari.

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