A heightened visitor experience ought, of course, to be satisfying in itself for the parks’ managers, but they are constantly looking to reinvent the parks every few years, with the focus on educating visitors and inculcating the message of conservation among them. For instance, as part of the effort to transform the zoo into a ‘Learning Zoo’, authorities organise, among other things, night camps for school children: kids get to spend a night at the zoo, get acquainted with the nocturnal habits of animals, watch enthralling animal shows — and even learn to sort trash from a squirrel!
The Night Safari experience, the world’s first such, makes for a wild night out — although not in the way patrons of Singapore’s Clark Quay entertainment district know it. A night at the zoo isn’t, as WRS CEO Lee Meng Tat emphasised, the same as the “daytime zoo with the lights switched off.” What you see is a whole new world of fauna and birdlife in subtle moonglow lighting and in their natural habitat. A 35-minute tram ride takes you through seven geographic regions, from the Himalayan foothills to the jungles of Southeast Asia; an additional four walking trails let you get close to and observe some endangered species such as the pangolin and the clouded leopard. All I can say is that the majesty of the Asiatic lion and the white tiger as they pace their turf is amplified many times over when you see them in the open in a dim light at night.
The newly opened River Safari is billed as Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park. It offers a curated experience of the world’s iconic river systems, from the Amazon to the Mekong to the Ganga to the Yangtze to the Nile to the Congo to the Mississippi, and breathtaking views of underwater forests and their wildlife inhabitants. You could spend hours watching the giant river otters from an underwater tunnel as they dive and swoosh around with infectious friskiness of spirit.
The Jurong Bird Park is Asia’s largest, but it isn’t just its size or the number of birds (over 5,000 from over 380 species) it houses that renders it an awesome experience. It’s the openness that characterises these spaces, allowing visitors to feed the birds — as I did at the world’s largest walk-in lory aviary — and otherwise engage with them, in the bird shows where the avian residents fluff their plumage — and strut their agility and intelligence too.
Watching all those birds and beasts as they savour their freedom and the loving attention of zookeepers and visitors, and in turn give great joy all around, puts you in mind of the Sufi poet Rumi. “Why,” he wondered, “do you stay in prison when the doors are unlocked?”
Perhaps because when you have all the freedom in the world in your natural ecosystem, it isn’t a prison at all, merely a comforting haven.
I flew Delhi-Singapore on Jet Airways for the convenient timings. Most global airlines offer services from Indian metros to Singapore. Round trip fares start at Rs 25,000.
Apply for e-visa through approved visa agents. Processing fee: S$30 plus service charge Rs 300. Details and list of approved visa agents at mfa.gov.sg/newdelhi.Currency
1 S$ = about Rs 48
(all prices listed here in S$)
Where to stay
I stayed at Ibis Singapore Novena (ibis.com/ibishotel), where double-rooms start at $105 a night plus VAT. The Singapore Tourism Board website (accommodation.yoursingapore.com) lists hotel options across a range of budgets.
> SINGAPORE ZOO Open 8.30am–6pm. Entry fee: $28 (adults); $18 (children). Rides and other experiences extra. The Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife experience costs an additional $35 (adults); $23 (children). zoo.com.sg
> NIGHT SAFARI Open 7.30pm–midnight. Entry fee: $39 (adults); $25 (children); includes 35-minute tram safari. Don’t miss the Creatures of the Night show; if you’re lucky, you can even catch the lions and tigers at feeding time. nightsafari.com.sg
> JURONG BIRD PARK Open 8.30am–6pm. Entry fee: $25 (adults); $16 (children). Do catch the thrilling High Flyers show and the Kings of the Skies show. Have lunch with the parrots ($22 for adults; $17 for children). birdpark. com.sg
> RIVER SAFARI Open 9am–6pm. Entry fee: $25 (adults); $16 (children). Each of the two boat rides costs $5 (adults); $3 (children). Don’t miss the giant panda forest and the Amazon flooded forest. riversafari.com.sg