[monkeywire] Breakfast with the orangutans
josh.greenman at gmail.com
Tue Feb 3 15:24:25 EST 2009
Breakfast with the orangutans
She was huge, and he was hairy, but to my five-year-old he represented
beauty itself, as a fat, orange orangutan loped along tree branches
towards him and plonked himself down one metre away.
The rules at Singapore Zoo mean, naturally, for safety reasons we are
not allowed to touch him. But if we were allowed, we could, I marvel.
That's how close he is.
How inviting and incredible he looks, golden, whiskery, like Old Man
River meets ape.
We're having breakfast with the orangutans, and it's a breathtaking
bonus we hadn't expected, not knowing how the reality of the event
would match up to its name.
But every morning at 9.15, dozens of visitors push their bacon and
eggs to the side, mouths agape, as a group of orangutans swings
nonchalantly towards them, just metres away.
The wonder of Singapore Zoo, and undoubtedly the reason for its
worldwide fame and success, is how wild creatures are kept captive
with a minimum of barriers, in areas just like their natural habitat.
Most of the enclosures are large and bounded by a water or concrete
moat only (often also camouflaged to escape human view.)
You're watching wild creatures like lions and rhinos with only space
between you, no fences, cages or wires to pen humans or animals in.
So our orangutans come towards us from a lush, green mini-jungle,
looking perfectly happy with their lot.
As they near our tropical café, an artificial tree branch, just like a
drawbridge, lowers to allow them to clamber from their enclosure to an
area at the side of our café.
Visitors can pose with the orangutans for zoo-taken photos, available
for purchase, or take their own for no charge.
Touching is off-limits, but the orangutans snack and entertain for
about half an hour before being guided by their zoo-keeper back home.
Their drawbridge goes up, but there's still another thrilling activity
Behind us a three-metre-long snake is lazing casually on a specially
designed log platform, again available for photos, and this time
allowed to be touched.
It's an amazing breakfast that is easily the highlight of the zoo, no
mean feat, as our day includes close encounters with macaws and
macaques, a wobbly elephant ride and a mini water-world show, where my
children each get kissed by a seal.
Everything in the day's programme is fun as well as informative.
Visitors can be photographed with tropical birds and go to "Elephants
at Work and Play" and "Splash Safari" shows; they can attend feeding
times with giraffes, lions and chimpanzees as well as white tigers,
pygmy hippos and proboscis monkeys; and they can go on
behind-the-scenes-tours to see the breeding of butterflies in the
"Fragile Forest", and get up close and personal with residents at the
A half-hour drive from Singapore city, it's possible to get to the zoo
by public transport but still affordable by cab.
Zoo tours are also offered but have restrictions on attractions and
time. Itinerary ideas, travel information and packages including other
Singapore attractions can be found online.
Singapore Night Safari
-40ha of lush secondary forest, opened in 1994
-120 species of animals, 29% of which are threatened
-open daily from 7.30pm-midnight
-adult entry S$22 (NZ$28), child (3-12 years) S$11 (NZ$14). Tram ride
extra S$10/$5 (NZ$13/$6.50).
-Not to be confused with the adjacent Singapore Zoo, the Singapore
Night Safari allows you to truly see creatures in a different light.
More than 1000 mainly nocturnal animals roam through imaginative and
inviting enclosures, seen through subtle lighting under a tropical
night from a tram that tootles by.
The absence of walls and wire can be disconcerting when only metres
away from wild creatures in near darkness, but it adds to the
excitement: the 3.2km ride is a pure adrenaline rush, albeit one that
takes place incredibly slowly.
Two road loops and 2.8km of walking trails feature animals organised
on geographic themes, such as the Himalayan foothills, equatorial
Africa or the South American pampas.
Creatures include hyenas, giant anteaters and rhinos, as well as Asian
elephants, Gir lions, Malayan tigers and sloth bears.
Three heart-stopping walking trails include Forest Giants, the Leopard
Trail, and Fishing Cat, which includes two giant aviaries holding
flying squirrels and the largest bat in the world - the flying fox.
Not for the faint-hearted, the winged mammals swoop so low you can
feel the hair on your head move.
For those strong on animal instinct and the call of the wild, the
experience can't be beaten.
Other attractions include a creatures of the night show and Bornean
tribal performers, who juggle and swallow fire to the gasps of a
-Entry to the night safari is opposite that of the Singapore Zoo. All
flash photography is banned.
-28ha of rainforest environment, opened in 1973
-315 species of animals, 16% of which are threatened
-open daily from 8.30am-6pm daily
-adult entry S$18 (NZ$23), child (3-12 years) S$9 (NZ$11.50).
-Pam Jones is a Warrington-based writer.
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