Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Night Zoo

My first full day in Singapore – and I was faced with a rough taskmaster making me wake up, and step outside into the hot hot heat, and walk around. Can you believe that? I had to go outside and walk around!

Alright – maybe my taskmaster wasn't so rough, letting me sleep until 9 (which became ten, when my alarm was 'gently moved across the room into silence.') I am clearly not good after a flight. But then I was awake and having food thrown at me – ham and... ham – and other delicious treats. And more juice than I knew what to do with. Oh it was delicious. A big filling breakfast. Such are the things that dreams are made of.

And then – once filled to pop – I was marched outside. Where the wave of heat, crashing against the air conditioned interior hit like a blow to the belly.

We headed out to the bus stop and made our way to a place that, in my mind, is called Ang Mok. In reality? Who knows. There was cheap food there – cheap grape bubble tea (huzzah!) and cheap things to buy. And also a big theater. Who knew that Shrek 3 was close to coming out? I should watch the second one. The Christmas special (specifically the Gingerbread Man's tale – amazing.)

After a quick wander around, we headed back to the bus stop and made our way to – the zoo.

Zoos. They need to have something going for them for me to care these days. They have to be breeding grounds for Japanese zombies, with terrifying monster houses – or else really step up. And while no zoo save for the Izu Biopark could ever live up to my expectations I really didn't know what to expect.

The Singapore zoo – there I was, walking through the gate, and looking left, looking right – then was given a map. OH MY GAWD! LION FEEDING TIME!

With newfound enthusiasm, despite the heat that my Canadian body was not prepared for, I started hopping and running towards the encosure. Only ten minutes left! Only five minutes! Hurry, hurry, hurry! I do feel bad for Xinly who probably expected little more than a stroll around to see the animals. But I had reverted to hyperactive six year old.

But then, but then, but theeeen, oh em gee! But theeeen they fed the lions!

Andtheydiditbytakingthemeatandthrowingitandonetimetheythrewitandtheeeeeeen! Andthenthemeathitthelionrightonthebackandthelionlookedatthemeatandthemeatwasscaredandtheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen! THELIONATEITITATETHEMEAT!

I was excited, let us just leave it at that. Sure I'd seen lions eating – heck I saw a lion shove its head in a cow belly – but this, it was mostly the same. You see, the thing about the Singapore zoo is that it doesn't feel as if the animals are in cages. Don't worry – they are – but you can't really tell. It's designed so well that there are no bars, no concrete walls, nothing making it obvious that you're in a zoo.

You could take pictures here and fully lie your way through a tale of how you saw these creates in the wild. No one would know better.

And there were monkeys! Lots of monkeys, and there were giraffes, and there were elephants – there's always another elephant – and the thing is, you're wondering perhaps what keeps them in their pens? It's water. They have streams in front of the pens. Most of these animals will not cross the water. The monkeys won't, that's for sure. As for the other animals? Well I don't know how or why it works. The leopards are behind glass – that's probably for the best – they're one of the few. They're excellent climbers and, I imagine, would like nothing more than to get out and eat you. So it's best they're behind the glass.

Even that pen doesn't look like one though, as the walls to these enclosures are all blocked by natural jungle, plants which grow freely in this tropical environment. At any moment, it seems the animals could back their way through the foliage and disappear completely.

After wandering through some of the areas, I was overcome with another childish fit. There was a “surf and splash(!!!) show,” and while it was not going to start until two thirty, I made sure we wandered by it earlier. At two o'clock the seats were already mostly full – curse those little bratty school kids out for a good time, gleefully checking off all the animals they saw in their guide book (I wish I had that checklist picture book.) One by one the animals entered the glass-walled tank.

First were the penguins – African black-footed penguins – so many of them zipping below the water's surface. And while I'd been told that they swam as if flying, I'd never been able to see the behaviour before, only really seeing them proposing towards the shore, trying to escape becoming the lunch of a leopard seal.

Next were the manatees – I'd not seen these creatures for over a decade and a half, when they used to populate the rivers in Florida, most ending up scared by the boat propeller blades.

And the the the various other birds took position.

At two thirty we were ready for the show to begin. Penguins swam, and did tricks (for some reason I don't feel bad for water animals when they perform – not in the same way as when bears dance, or elephants walk on their hind legs – still, these looked like well treated animals, not the sad angry ones of Thailand.)

There was also a seal. A wonderful, playful, who knows how they trained it seal. But the best part of the show? It wasn't the animals – and at an animal show, you'd think they'd be the stars, it was the staff. These people knew their cues, and they delivered. Facial expressions and body language communicated so much, and as jokes – jokes that seemed spontaneous despite repetition three times a day – flew you were captured and fully taken in by these workers.

The show was top notch, and something which really ought to have cost money is the real world. The forty five minutes of animal/human comedy was worth every moment spent sitting there. Even if it meant sitting around many a screaming school child. Actually, I felt rather at home there. “Is everyone having fun,” the staff asked. “YEAH!” Sure the kids yelled it, but I drown them out without effort.

And then it was over – back to the zoo, the heat, the animals.

Tigers. Tigers are the one animal that still really impress me. I said it back in Bangkok, and I say it again now. Having never seen a tiger in the wild, they are still quite impressive creatures to see in any way shape or form. And watching three wander, or relax on rocky outcroppings? Fantastic. Looking at the marks on the ground I learned that they can leap ten meters. This, of course, explains how one escaped years back.

Wandering the whole park, stopping off in the Australia area, to visit my good near-dinosaur buddy the cassowary, we finally had to make our way out of the park. It was five thirty, and the park closed at six. For the next hour and a half we hung around the KFC eating chicken, and enjoying air conditioning. There we stayed until seven – when the Nigh Safari opened.

The Night Safari? What is that, one wonders. Well – I shall tell you. It is a night zoo. It is very literally a night zoo. Picture a zoo. Picture the night. Amazing.

Every child wanted to wander the zoo, watching the animals do strange night time things that they constantly refuse to do during the day. It is here, at the Night Safari that this dream comes to reality.

The paths are lit, some by torches, and others by lamps set to emulate the light of the moon. different paths through the darkness take you on a journey to see the night time animals. There were three highlights, though the entire experience was one to be reveled in. I saw a pangolin – which had become my favourite animal since seeing one in a picture months ago. If ever there was to be an animal that best resembled a pokemon in real life it would be the pangolin. Look up a picture of Sandshrew, and there it is. Then, look up Sandshrews level 22 evolution, Sandslash – and this is what the pangolin becomes when angry. A spiky beast ready to destroy all those around it! Or maybe not.

I learned that the pangolin was once indigenous to Singapore – and yet, now – it is mostly removed from this country due to the building up of new urban areas, “you bastards.”

When the rain started I didn't care – I was in a zoo. At night. The novelty was something that would not soon wear off. When I came to the leopards, the rain worked to send them seeking shelter, sitting right up against the glass. With my face, no more than an inch from the leopards, I could have sat there all night. Strange how bold half an inch of barrier makes one. Without that half inch, were I one hundred meters away, fear still would have overtaken me.

And yet here – all I could think about was how beautiful the animals were.

The third highlight? The mangrove trail. Fruit bats and flying foxes fly freely as you walk beneath the trees. The small bats dart past your heads, while the powerful bass of the larger animals creates vibrations in the air as they flap past. Large, and wondrous, the animals are harmless unless provoked. I did not provoke them.

Before we left the park, we made our way to the animals of the night show – and watching half an hour of “animal planet: world's funniest animals” in line for said show we were let in. Once more the staff were the true performers, while the animals worked as beautiful glue to keep everything going smooth.

Some of the training was shown, as well as a strong recycling message (where otters sorted garbage for us to watch.) At one point the staff came out to the audience in a mock show of having lost something. A five meter python, it seemed, had been stored in a box right below my feet the entire show to that point.

The zoo at night. Why only in Singapore has this been made a reality? Truly it is a beautiful and unique park. And, all things being equal, a real to come all the way out here in its own right.

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