I love visiting zoos. As a child, I enjoyed visiting the Singapore Zoo as a family activity on the weekends. Much later, when I began university, I started visiting the Singapore Zoo to observe and draw the animals in it. It was a requirement for one of the classes I took, and it gave me a new way to look at and appreciate non-human animals.
The Singapore Zoo has always been one of the best zoos in the world. This is mostly thanks to its former CEO and designer, Bernard Harrison. He designed the zoo with the guiding principle that the animals within should be living in a habitat mimicking their natural environment as closely as possible. These days, most zoos around the world have been redesigned to this principle, but the Singapore Zoo was one of the first.
The other Singapore Wildlife Reserves also followed on these principles. The Night Safari, the Jurong Birdpark and its most recent addition, the River Safari, all feature a natural, rainforest environment where the animals are free to wander within their large enclosures. You can read more about them in our post “River Safari, Jurong Birdpark and the Night Safari“.
The Animals of the Singapore Zoo
There are over 2800 animals in the Singapore Zoo, from over 300 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. The exhibits are designed to be as naturalistic as possible and incorporate special viewing decks that provide the best experience for visitors and the zoo’s inhabitants. There are also immersive enclosure experiences, where visitors can walk into an enclosure and observe the animals up close.
Breakfast with Orang Utans
One of the best things to do at the Singapore Zoo is the Jungle Breakfast. For me, this activity is a trip down memory lane. Around the breakfast tables are old news clippings from the 80s and 90s about the Singapore Zoo and its most famous resident of all time – the Orang Utan Ah Meng. Ah Meng has long since died (there was a day of national mourning when that happened), but he lives on in dozens of pictures of him in the restaurant.
The buffet is excellent. It’s a legit restaurant – none of that half-baked crap you get at most other zoos. The food is tasty, freshly prepared and refilled often. On top of it, you also get to watch a show where the keepers interact with the Orang Utans in the zoo. If you feel brave enough, you can even get up close and take a selfie with these guys!
The White Tiger
The star attraction of the Singapore Zoo is the white tiger. These rare and endangered creatures are adored for their magnificence and fierce beauty – with their blue eyes, pink noses and platinum fur, they are a captivating sight. You can feel the power in their bodies with every step they take.
What I especially love about observing the pair living here is how they interact with one another. It’s amazing to watch such dangerous creatures behave so playfully and with such affection for one another.
The pair live in a large enclosure filled with tropical vegetation, affording them plenty of privacy from the visitors when they require it. However, they are simply not fussed most of the time, and like parading back and forth in the clearing facing the viewing deck. Occasionally, they can be seen swimming and splashing about in the moat.
Asian Small Clawed Otters
There’s a whole family of them living in the Singapore Zoo, and another in the Night Safari. I love otters for their playfulness and ingenuity. They are fascinating to watch, and observing them at playtime (and with otters, it’s always playtime, unless it’s feeding time) I cannot help but think they behave exactly like little children at their best.
Otters do things simply for the sake of entertainment – like juggling rocks, floating on a current or chasing each other around in circles.
The otter enclosure is two-tiered and features an outdoor deck at the ground level where you can watch them play tag with each other and paddle in the stream, and an underwater viewing gallery where you can watch them swim with an acrobatic flair.
The Vietnamese Langur, or Douc Langur, is the most beautiful primate, hands down. These creatures have gorgeous multi-coloured coats of fine wispy fur, elegant faces and wistful eyes.
Their numbers have been decimated because of the Vietnam war, which destroyed vast swaths of their habitat. They are now a critically endangered species.
The Singapore Zoo has been doing its part to bring population numbers up in its own small way. By giving these langurs an environment with thick, lush vegetation affording them lots of privacy, the breeding pairs in the family have given birth to over 25 babies over the years they have been here.
Celebes/Sulawesi Crested Macaques
You may not have known the species name of this monkey, but you’ll certainly recognise it as the famous ‘selfie’ monkey who spawned an entire debate on copyright issues related to artwork by non-human animals.
These primates are very expressive and communicated with each other in a variety of ways including baring their teeth, smacking their lips together and calling out to each other verbally.
Although this monkey is on the endangered species list, their protection in their home range in the Sulawesi islands is far from guaranteed. This is because they regularly devastate crops and fields and are hunted as pests, and also, for bushmeat. However, slow progress is being made by international wildlife organisations as they put in place conservation plans that benefit both farmers and monkeys that share the same land.
The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia and Baboons
This attraction simulates the environment of the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, a land that literally tore apart 40 million years ago due to tectonic forces. The exhibit is tastefully done, with man-made rock formations that emulate the terrain of the Rift Valley. Here, there are three star animals, the Nubian ibex, the banded mongoose and the Hamadryas baboon.
The baboon enclosure features a colony of more than 90 baboons. They are some of the most fascinating animals in the zoo, and watching them engage in their daily social activities can be quite eye-opening as you recognise how similar we human primates are to these creatures.
Aside from the Bonobo – which you can’t find in the Singapore Zoo because of its social rituals – the Chimpanzee is our closest primate relative. Here, they are kept in an environment that simulates a lush hillside forest clearing giving them lots of privacy and space to live and play in.
Their environment is highly stimulating and filled with obstacles and games that they find challenging. One of these puzzles in their enclosure is a man made termite mound stuffed with honey, which they have to use a tool to get to.
The Treetops Trail is one of my favourite exhibits. It is a completely immersive experience that has you walking through paths cut into a simulated rain forest teeming with life. The creatures here are some of the most adorable in the zoo. They are free to wander around and swing from branches that overhang the visitor path, and visitors can get really close – but not touch! – the animals.
Among the animals here is the brown lemur, the cotton top tamarin, the Siamang gibbon and the white-faced Saki monkey. Among these, the tamarin is the most inquisitive and friendly. Don’t be surprised if the bolder monkeys come up to you for some attention!
The Treetops Trail also has a clan of Malayan Flying Foxes. You’d think they are foxes, but they are actually bats – with orange-red heads and busts. To find them, look up at the highest branches.
Perhaps the most playful and active animal here is the ring-tailed lemur from Madagascar. Here, you’ll see them chasing each other with verve, occasionally stopping to groom each other or to bask in the sun. They also occasionally break out in deafening calls that echo through the room.
Wild Africa Exhibit
All zoos have an Africa exhibit with the Big 5 that roam the savannahs and plains of the continent. The Singapore Zoo has many of these star animals. Among them is the White Rhinoceros, one of the most endangered creatures in the world. The exhibit also has other, less flashy but no less adorable critters.
Among these are meerkats, a type of mongoose that live in the Kalahari desert and the Namib desert. There is a clan of over twenty of them here in the zoo. Mostly they are known for how adorable yet dangerous they are. Fun fact – they eat snakes, scorpions and spiders.
The Reptile Garden
It may not have wings or breathe fire, but the Komodo dragon comes pretty close in visual similarity to how we imagine these mythical creatures. Although these creatures populate the nightmares of many children in South East Asia, they, for all their physical and biological prowess, are very shy creatures and will only attack when provoked.
There are also plenty of snakes in the snake house, filled with some of the most venomous reptiles on earth. There are all sorts: the king cobra, vipers, rattlesnakes and pythons – the most common snake that can be found in the wild in Singapore. The star of the snake house is the green anaconda, an impressive creature weighing over 200 kilograms.
There’s something about crocodiles that makes them utterly terrifying to us humans. Perhaps it’s because they are so different to us. The truth is, they are possibly the laziest creatures on earth and only attack when they need to eat – which is seldom. Crocodiles can go without food for almost an entire year – but then, they’d better catch the next big meal they can find by the end of it, or they’ll starve. They are difficult to spot in the wild as they remain mostly submerged in rivers, lakes and swamps, but at the Singapore zoo, you can observe them in exhibits that give you a good look into the world beneath the surface.
Here are all the photographs from the Singapore Zoo Parks: