Vines glittering off an arch lead me to an ethereal forest. I walk under the canopy and across a bridge with a stream gently flowing beneath. It may seem like I am dreaming, but in fact, I am at Rainforest Lumina, Singapore Zoo’s latest seasonal attraction.
Upon reaching the centre of a circle, I am surrounded by the posters of the stars of the show I’m here for—the Creature Crew. Each member represents a certain quality—courage, creativity, playfulness, etc. You are supposed to choose the one you relate to the most. So, I take a wristband from a basket in front of the poster which I think represents me the most.
Even if you have been to Singapore Zoo before, at night, when the animals have retreated and the one- kilometre stretch is transformed by lights and music, it feels alien. Divided into 11 sections, the multimedia walk projects the Creature Crew at some of the exhibits. The walk features no real animals and the zoo ensures they are not disturbed.
Though one can tell where technology meets an installation, I would suggest you unsee it. Believing everything is real makes the journey magical. Believe the flowers are shimmering and the pathways are filled with real fireflies, and not strategically positioned, flickering beams of light.
It is better to let go of the scepticism, as I do, in the more interactive bits. I sing out loud to lure the Creature Crew out of their hiding and jump up and down to join in on their fun. Rainforest Lumina is interactive for a reason: their theme of ‘we are one’ where each member of the Crew has a role to play is shown in an audiovisual display against the backdrop of the Zoo’s Great Rift Valley. Though different, they must work together to save the planet. The underlying theme of preservation and conservation isn’t hard to miss. Much like the rest of the parks under Wildlife Reserve Singapore, Singapore Zoo’s Rainforest Lumina has an uncanny ability to unleash pure, unadulterated joy. I smile at the Wall of Fame alongside the Crew member I had earlier chosen, in the final leg of the visual treat.
I am still grinning as I sit in a small buggy at the Night Safari next door. Our guide weaves an interesting narrative complete with facts and figures, as he steers the buggy through the park, towards the more open exhibits where the animals are free to approach you.
Before visiting the four parks under Wildlife Reserve Singapore, my wildlife experiences were limited to tense-looking animals enslaved in cages in Indian zoos. But this isn’t my first visit here. While the initial euphoria of watching animals prance around in the open has faded, actually feeding them is another story altogether.
Our buggy stops near a herd of elephants. A bucketful of apples and bananas are handed over, and before I know it, their trunks are tapping my wrists, eager to be fed. One fruit at a time, they have their fill until the guide draws my attention to the little calf that is struggling to push past the herd. She is tiny, her trunk not long enough to reach the barricade, so I have to chuck her a few apples, away from the others.
It is the manatees at the River Safari next day that take the cake. Manatee Mania is a behind-the-scenes experience, where guests are allowed to feed the marine animal. Massive manatees swim around with red-tailed catfish, arapaimas, river otters and red-bellied piranhas. Our guide hands me a basket of leafy veggies. The sea cows swim towards me, resting their big faces on the ledge. They are vegetarians, I am told. But it is still a little unnerving to see their lumpy lips rotate independently with thorn-like whiskers, waiting for food. The guide places the leaves near their mouths and says, “their lips work like hands, grabbing the food and pushing it inside”. I reach to touch the mammal’s head, my other hand putting the veggies in its mouth, only to pull back when I feel whiskers prickle at my wrists.
It takes a few tries, but by the time the guide brings out a box of nutritious nuggets, I am a feeding pro. I watch them gobble up treats, their not-so-sharp whiskers brushing against my fingers. I must admit, I am more than charmed.
Singapore Zoo’s Rainforest Lumina is open from 7.30pm to midnight and operational through December 2018. Tickets are priced at $22 for adults and $16 for children. Book your tickets here.