One of the things we always look forward to on our visits to Singapore is a trip to the nature parks in the Mandai Resevoir. The parks there are some of the best in the world, and it allows city dwellers in an otherwise hyper urban area to get close to nature.
We went around April this time (in 2019). On our taxi ride there, we noticed that there was a lot of construction going on, and a “nature bridge” in progress. Our taxi driver told us that there were big plans to turn the entire area into a large nature park, with more additions to the three already present – The Singapore Zoo, The Night Safari and The River Safari. Also, there were considerations being made for animals native to the area – these nature bridges address the problem of large highways cutting through these reserves, allowing the creatures to roam freely between green spaces.
We were really looking forward to visiting the River Safari this time. The last time we were in Singapore, it had just openened, and there were still a number of exhibits that were not completely ready. Also, it was extremely crowded. We were looking forward to seeing it now, when it was fully done.
The River Safari is a beautiful place. It has got great architecture and an interesting theme. As you go along the main throughfare, you walk through the different rivers of the world – this reminded me a bit of the River Tethys in Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, which snakes through open portals across all the different worlds of the Hegemony.
I can’t remember the order the rivers are in, but it is something like starting out in the Mekong, then going through the Nile before cruising on the Amazon and walking on the banks of the Yangtze.
Each stretch introduces you to flora and fauna that is native to the particular river and some interesting facts about life in and around the river – and also stories about how humans have interacted with these very important waterways throughout our history.
We didn’t see a lot more than we did the last time though. I thought we had missed out on quite a lot the previous visit, but it wasn’t true. The River Safari is pretty small, in comparison to the Zoo and the Night Safari – and it’s even smaller if you don’t buy the ticket to do the Amazon Cruise.
Now the Amazon Cruise is a real stupid idea. You have, in the middle of the park, a restricted zone which can only be seen if you pay the extra 4 or 5 dollars to do the cruise. Here, there are two main attractions, the jaguar and the wolf. Now I find it unacceptable that the two “hit” animals are in a restricted zone.
That’s the first unacceptable thing – the second is the fact that the visitor is not in control of the ride. It’s a silly amusement park ride that takes under ten minutes to go through all the creatures in the restricted zone. They say it’s ten minutes total, but this probably includes the start and end where you don’t get to see anything.
You can go on the ride as many times as you want, but I don’t think that makes up for it. You just can’t take a good shot of the jaguar if you have to do a ten minute boat ride to catch a 20 second glimpse. It was a terrible idea and the boardroom that thought of it should be ashamed of themselves. I hope there are no more hair-brained ideas like this in the attractions that are currently being built.
I can’t say that I was totally disappointed over our visit – I still enjoyed it, and the view of the Mandai river along the wooden concourse that extends over it is truly marvellous – but I think they can improve the whole experience quite a bit in the next upgrade.
The Singapore Zoo this time I felt, was a little lacking. First of all, the white tiger enclosure was closed – being one of the primary attractions of the zoo, it was quite a disappointment. Also there was some kind of Game of Thrones theme going on at the moment (this is April 19, right when the final season aired). There were some banners that likened pangolins to dragons, but when we tried to look for pangolins, we couldn’t find any. Pity, since I absolutely love pangolins – they are such cute and strange creatures!
Because we went to the River Safari first, by the time we were at the zoo, it was after lunch, and the sun was right overhead – this generally makes the animals sleepy, especially the big cats – which are one of the creatures I most look forward to at the zoo.
Nevertheless, we still greatly enjoyed observing the smaller critters – otters, monkeys and apes, meerkats and more.
We were lucky with the otters – we were waiting for awhile trying to get a glimpse of them, and just as we were about to give up, the keeper came with their midday meal, so we got the opportunity to watch them feed!
I know these days you can get an up close and personal experience with local otters at Satay by the Bay near the super trees in Gardens by the Bay, but since we could never get up early enough to catch them on time, this encouter at the zoo made up for it.
Otters often surprise me by how ferocious they are when they eat. Because they are so cute, we often forget that they are fierce carnivores. Although they are small, their intelligence and strength in numbers gives them a significant edge in any fight with predators they might face.
When you are watching them at play, you can really see how smart they are and the camaraderie they have among one another.
The chimpanzees were also interesting to observe this time. We managed to catch some rather poignant moments while watching them hang out with each other.
As I’ve said before, I find watching apes a little difficult, since they are so close to us – it’s a little like watching humans in a cage really – but I suppose zoo chimps have traded privacy for a safe and secure life. Life is hard for chimps out in the wild, they have something akin to a cast system that can be brutally enforced.
They have similar hierarchys in captivity too, but due to the abundance of food, I suppose life is easier, even for the lowest ranking chimp in the group.
While watching them, we saw one chimp come up to another to take her hand. The other chimp got up and went along with it. It was funny – just like two children at a playground who want to be alone by themselves, in their own made up world.
We also went by the enclosure for the Hamadryas baboons. Baboons are old world monkeys – which means they are closer to apes than new world monkeys.
When I was a child, I used to think they were apes – they were certainly large enough, and seem to interact with the sort of intelligence you expect from apes. I suppose, in reality, when it comes to defining the intelligence of monkey like creatures (which includes us), it’s a pretty grey line between the groups.
Overall, the Singapore Zoo was still worthwhile visiting for a nice day out close to nature. Although we would certainly recommend getting there as soon as it opens. Also one thing we were missing this time was the buffet breakfast, which is always a really fun activity – but you got to book it early! Tickets sell out weeks in advance.
Here are all the photographs from the Singapore Zoo Parks: