14 May 2011

Singapore Zoo

Located in the heart of Singapore and among 28 hectares of lush rainforest-like environment you will find a conglomeration of 305 animal species.  With a total of 3,700 specimens of which 36% are endangered species, the zoo is a feast for the eyes.
There's your typical delightful collection of zebras, giraffes and big cats mixed in with endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutans, Asiatic lions, Indian rhinos and Komodo dragons to name a few. 
This is Trinity's eighth visit to a zoo.  At the tender age of two and a half she is already becoming a professional zoo visitor.  From the first visit when she was a mere 14 months of age, she has been captivated with animals.  The first trip we made to Singapore Zoo, we were concerned that Trinity would not cope with a full day of walking and missing her afternoon nap.  She proved such a trooper.  Arriving at 9.15am, she carried on till closing time at 6pm.  Whilst John and I were done for, Trini pipes up "more animals mummy!!".  Within five minutes of sitting in a taxi, she was out for the count until the next morning.  Now that's my girl, a traveller at heart.
I have been to zoos a few times before but I can honestly say I have never really paid attention to the animals' stories.  Beyond the visual feast of seeing the grandeur of an elephant or height of a giraffe or the beautiful mane of a lion, I did not connect with their plight and how many of them are critically endangered species.
What made it different this time around?  Perhaps my approach in really experiencing Singapore and everything that it has to offer.  Perhaps knowing that I will write a blog about it and wanting to impart my learnings to those who read them.  Whatever it is, I am now aware and it is sad at how with all the intelligence we garner we seem to have the power to create and destroy almost all in the one breath.
Many of the endangered species lose their homes due to deforestation, fires, poaching and persecution by farmers.  We encroach on their homes with little regard to how they are being affected.  A sad case indeed knowing that we have driven many wonderful species into extinction or near extinction.
However, to bring some fun back into this article, here are some fun facts about some of the animals we have encountered.
Cheetahs - although fast runners, they have the problem of physically overheating.  They must rest after each run for about a minute or else they can die from overheating.
Elephants - are led by an experienced matriarch, whilst the males leave to lead solitary lives or join bull herds.  Imagine the testosterone levels there.  Pregnancies last between 20-22 months with the longest on record being 25 months.  At birth, a baby elephant weights between 80-120kgs.
Gharials - an ancient line of crocodiles believed to have been in existence for the last 65 million years.  It can grow to 5m in length. 
Giant Tortoises - can weigh up to 360kg.  With a long life span the oldest known tortoise was named Harriett.  She was caught on the Galapagos Island in the mid 1830s and lived to a ripe old age of 176.
Giraffes - their coat pattern are like our fingerprints.  Each one different and unique.  There are 9 subspecies of giraffes in Africa, each one differentiated by their coat patterns.  They sleep a maximum of 4 hours and go into a deep sleep for only one minute each time.  Whilst very tall, giraffes have the same number of neck bones as humans (that being 7).  Maximum recorded height was 6.1m.
Komodo Dragon - these ginormous lizards are the largest of its kind, growing up to 3m in length and weighing as much as 166kg.  Since they have to fight amongst themselves for food, it pays to be able to eat fast.  A Komodo dragon is capable of eating a 30kg wild boar within 17 minutes.  Their throats and jaw muscles are adapted to swallowing large chunks of food.  Let's not cross their paths.
Lions - with a roar that can be heard 8km away and capable of sleeping 20 hours a day, this magnificent animal is the pride of the jungle.  Young males are tossed out of the pride at three years of age and together they form wandering groups who challenge males in other prides.  The aging males get driven out in order to take over the pride.
Orangutans - once they swung the trees of Java through Laos and into China.  Today they can only be found in Sumatra and Borneo.  If deforestation continues at a rapid rate then in as little as 10 years time they will only ever be found in zoos.  The Singapore zoo has successfully bred 37 orangutans who as part of an animal exchange programme have found new homes in Australia, Japan, Malaysia, NZ & Sri Lanka.
Rhinos - these fellas easily weigh in at 1 tonne but is countered by a pee wee brain that weighs only 600g.  Their protective skin can be as thick as 5cm.  Their horns are made of a mass of hair stuck together for which they are often hunted to be either traded, used for traditional medicine or in some Middle Eastern countries to make dagger handles.
White Tigers - are Bengal tigers and descendants of Mohan.  Caught in 1951 by a Maharajah in India, Mohan lived in the palace all of his life.  Father of many cubs he died at age 20.  The white tigers have a unique set of genes.  They exist because of a rare recessive variant which can occur with the correct combination of parents.  One in 10,000 tigers will be white.  With a jumping range of 10m they can reach speeds of up to 70km/h.
Zebras - don't be fooled by these monochrome animals.  They are not all the same.  Each zebra has different patterns unique to the individual.  One of the subspecies called Quagga became extinct in the late 19th century.  This species only had the B&W stripes on the front part of the body.  The rear end was just plain brown.  Here's an internet image of a quagga.

Quagga specimen on display at the The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich
Image courtesy of www.carolsnotebook.wordpress.com
And so I've reached the end from what is possibly one of my longest blogs.  I have really been touched by the animals and the zoo and pretty much expect to return soon.  Partly for visitors to experience it and partly for Trini who often asks about going to see the animals.