Things that Go Bump in the Night

Apart from leg injuries I am enjoying my sojourn in Asia, especially this brief period where the Lovely Wife is out to share the experience with me – at least out of work hours. Sadly, this is not a holiday, but for moments it feels like it. This weekend, for instance, had some very special moments, not least at the zoological parks here in Singapore.

Zoos are a controversial topic, and I am not going to debate pros and cons of modern zoos – instead let’s all agree on the abominations some of them were in the past – I still remember some of the places I was taken as a child where the conditions the poor animals were kept in where not only inappropriate but positively disgusting, even to a child. Sadly I have been to several major zoos where the penny does not yet seem to have dropped, and even when championing the very real need for captive breeding programs and consumer education (among the ‘entertainment’), which keeps me just about in the pro-corner, there is still a lot of work to do with some institutions and there are some species that just cannot cope with captivity and need to be treated especially carefully in terms of how we conserve them.

But Singapore zoo (and night safari) certainly impressed me. I am not sure about the poor polar bear, but some of the big predators – who often suffer the most and in the most obvious fashion – seemed a lot more relaxed than I have seen in similar places. In particular, the pair of white tigers was positively playful with some rather engaging pair play/mating behaviour. I have just noticed I have used the word ‘playful’ when describing a tiger. I think the only thing that put more of a shiver down my spine than watching a large predator leaping around its enclosure was looking directly into the eyes of a group of spotted hyenas, only a few metres away and in the dark. Those eyes said no mercy, and I was very glad of the ditch that kept us apart.

This latter encounter was at the rather wonderful night safari. This is a unique night time zoo which focusses on nocturnal animals and was quite magical. There is a tram that takes you round some of the site but we ignored it in the end – the loud and overly enthusiastic recorded commentary irritated us both and we thought we would leave that to the families. As reasonably able bodied people (albeit one of us limping a bit) we wandered off along the various trails at our own pace, with a relatively small number – on this evening at least – of fellow intrepid explorers. It was worth the shoe leather. I have never seen a Slow Loris alive and in the flesh – probably never will again. Small deer graze and interact with each other just off the path, completely unconcerned as you walk past and/or stop and stare. In one place, one slightly sleepy Binturong (related to Civets) was turned into three very curious ones, all sniffing at us, just as the signs had suggested we do to them (apparently they are supposed to smell of popcorn; not entirely convinced on that one). Perhaps because there were relatively few people on the trails the animals were so, well, relaxed, but also it pushes the point that for these species night is their time, and the time to see them at their best. Some of these species are found in day zoos, and I suspect some of them suffer stress from the noise and disturbance of visitors at a time when ideally they would be resting.

So thumbs up to the night safari and let us keep thinking of ways to better look after our wildlife – and how to stop and if possible reverse their habitat destruction as if there is any reason for captive breeding there has to an eventual end game for reintroduction, otherwise you are breeding museum exhibits; personally I do not think that is good enough. Also, thumbs up to the constant messaging in the zoos here on saying no to illegal trade in animals and animal parts – I would also like to see this emphasised more in other zoos.

The main highlight for us… Well, for us I think we both agreed that the fruit bats are stars. Not only the larger ones, but also the first animal we came across coming into the zoo, near to the toilets. A small colony of fruit bats hanging down from the roof of the covered walkway, each one maybe six inches in length. Very sweet, and as we watched one of them suddenly changed the position of its wings to reveal the tiny baby it was grooming. Sold from that point, I think.