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Singapore, Day 15, Saturday

Written on: Saturday July 21st, 2007

A journal entry from: Elective

Today was a day I was seriously looking forward to - our trip to the Zoo! We were up early, despite the late night the night before, and filled ourselves up on the free breakfast before making the journey across to East Coast Road to our next residence - Fern Loft Hostel. It seemed ok when we first arrived, and we had a private room so that was ok, although it was a little cell-like, but it was all we had managed to find when booking so we were in no position to complain. We were just happy to have somewhere to sleep with a roof above our heads.

We took a taxi to the zoo, with the taxi driver telling us we were foolish to go that day, as it was going to rain. Well, we ignored his advice, and lo and behold it began to rain. Surprise, surprise. Still, we had planned to go on the Saturday all along, so nothing could stop us now.

We paid 30 dollars for zoo entry and night safari, and then made our way through the gates into the zoo itself. We both had rain coats, so the rain wasn't too much bother, and more of an annoyance than anything else. The first animals we saw were loving the rain anyway - the playful and mischievous otters! With plenty of young in the enclosure, the otters were all having fun splashing around in the water. One adult otter showed off by repeatedly performing back flips away from a strategically placed rock, and seemed to play off the 'oohs' and 'aahs' of the crowd, becoming more flamboyant with each somersault. We were mesmerised by the little creatures for quite some time, before realising that we should really get moving, as there would be plenty more to see!

Let me tell you a little bit about Singapore Zoo before I carry on. The zoo is very clever in the way that the animals are shown to the public. It has an 'open zoo' concept, which basically means that the minimal amount of barrier is used, giving the public the best views of the amazing animals that reside there. Mostly, this means having the animals lower than the walkways, but it can also just be a case of cleverly placing a moat between the path and the enclosure. It works incredibly well, and seems so simple, but one thing is for sure - it makes Singapore Zoo unique from most other zoos, and it certainly stands out as an example of how well a zoo can be run. It makes the viewing of the animals far more enjoyable, as you can get a much better view, without being obstructed by jail-like iron bars. Definitely a more satisfying experience, and the animals seemed much happier than any zoo I have ever visited before.

Now for the animals we saw! The list is endless, as the zoo is so enormous and has so many fantastic species there, but I just want to mention a few of my favourites.

The white tigers stand out in my memory, as they were so graceful despite their size, and seemed deceptively gentle. Lounging around in the sun (that eventually made an appearance!) on sandy, craggy rocks, they seemed to not have a care in the world as they showed off their menacing teeth in wide-mouthed yawns.

The free-roaming orangutans were one of the most incredible creatures at the zoo. The word orangutan is actually a Malay word, that can be split into two parts - orang, meaning man, and utan, meaning forest. So the orangutan is literally the 'man of the forest'. You learn something new every day, right? Most of the older orangutans were looking grumpy with the weather, and taking shelter in their huts, but the younger orangutans were high in the trees, practicing their hand over hand climbing and pestering their peers to play. A couple of young orangutans were having a good old wrestle on the ground, rolling around together while others disdainfully looked on.

The Elephants of Asia show was impressive, and we were lucky enough to get front row seats. The elephants demonstrated how they work, and more importantly, how they play! Teetering precariously on narrow logs, they demonstrated their impeccable balance by walking along the log, and then performing a near impossible 180 degree turn to go back the way they came. They showed off their amazing strength, with the ability to move logs around the habitat with ease - uphill, along rocks, it didn't matter what terrain they had to cover, they did it. They obeyed commands from their mahoots (trainers) with perfect behaviour, and hammed up their act for their adoring audience, who rewarded them with claps and whistles, which they loved.

The Singapore Zoo is also the proud owner of the largest primate section in the world, equipped with hundreds of monkeys. Ugly-looking baboons shamelessly flashing their bright pink behinds at visitors, and smaller, impish monkeys leaping between branches while chimpanzees huddled together and picked at each other.

Further around the zoo, aloof giraffes towered above other animals, easily pulling down branches for snacks, while the smaller animals had to make do with grass. The colouring was spectacular, and they were living harmoniously with various species of deer and birds.

Malevolent looking crocodiles were looking distinctly unimpressed with the shoals of fish racing around them, while in another pool in a different area, an enormous polar bear blended in well with it's habitat (although underwater, you could clearly see it's dinner-plate paws, and looming body!).

Another of my favourites had to be the pygmy hippos, or as they are fondly termed, the 'ballerinas of the water'. The pygmy hippo cannot swim, so it tiptoes along the bottom of the water gracefully, gaining it's nickname in this way. There was a tiny baby hippo in with the two adults, but it was shyly hiding behind it's mother.

Animals weren't the only thing to feature at the zoo, as we looked around a beautiful orchid garden, and checked out the other tropical crops. We even saw the biggest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, although it didn't smell as promised - not that I had any burning desire to detect the stench of foul, rotting meat.

It took us a good four or five hours to get around the entire zoo, and after getting some energy back with a quick meal, we decided to make our way over to Orchard Road to check out the shopping district of Singapore.

I have to say that, although impressive, I was more blown away by the shops in Kuala Lumpur than I was in Singapore. This may have had something to do with the fact that, after the long morning, our feet were aching and we were tired, so not really in the shopping frame of mind! Probably a good thing. We did make a couple of purchases, including some more reading material, as the books that we originally brought with us have long since been made redundant and we were desperate for something new!

When we'd had enough of the shops, we went back to the Boat Quay at Raffles Place for some good food. We found a nice looking Italian restaurant called Pasta Al Frescata, and seated ourselves right by the water - the best seats in the house! The food was fantastic, and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. I was brave, and chose a seafood starter over my old reliable bruschetta, and I have to say that I was extremely glad I did. I was served a plateful of prawns, doused in olive oil, chilli and garlic, complimented with roasted tomatoes that were absolutely delicious. The main was just as tasty, and we definitely ate our fill that night! Amazing!