Malaysia/ Singapore, Part 5: In the Night Zoo

I’m not really a zoo person, but I’d been assured that the Night Safari in Singapore was different. Curious to see for ourselves if it was as animal-friendly as we’d heard, Monsieur and I went back up the road for Johor Bahru to talk with the animals.

The park itself was opened in 1994 and covers 40 hectares of land. It is home to 1040 animals, divided between 120 different species and, according to the Safari website, 29% of these species are endangered.

Visitors can choose to walk on any of three trails around the park, or take a little tram with running commentary. Given the persistent drizzle, we went for the latter. On board, a lively host told us what to look for as we passed various enclosures. This certainly helped because in the dark, with only dim lighting, it wasn’t always easy to spot a well-camouflaged animal blending into its surrounds. “We might not be able to see all the animals tonight,” apologised the chatty host, “some of them don’t like the rain.” In spite of this, we managed to spot them all. There were many Asian varieties of the antelope, deer and sheep, some of which wandered around the park at will, and others which were protected from us (or we from them) by cleverly-engineered ditches, reminiscent of the English haha. There was no visible fencing.

Elsewhere, we saw families of wolves, lions and hyenas and each enclosure’s design incorporated a feeding spot where the animal’s dinner lured it out into areas where they’d be visible to us as the tram glided past. At the halfway point, we were instructed to leave the tram and follow a sign-posted track for the second part of the safari. Immediately, I spotted a keeper with a lemon-coloured python around her neck. She was allowing visitors to pose for photos with the snake and I would have loved to, but Monsieur wasn’t keen. Back on the track, we came across a pavilion housing a leopard. I didn’t like this at all. We came here to see animals in the open. We didn’t want to look through glass at a cat in restricted space. It’s a sad sight. Then again, I suppose big cats are better able to jump across hahas to feed on unsuspecting tourists and fellow beasts.

Further along the track was the flying fox enclosure. Inside, fruit attracted these furry, large-winged bats who hung happily upside-down as they peeled bananas. I didn’t like them. Couldn’t get away fast enough, and the smell of ammonia from the bats’ urine was pretty powerful. The rest of the track took us past pavilions housing smaller creatures, such as nocturnal monkeys, bushbabies and owls. Deer wandered past us in groups as we made our way back to the tram for the final part of the tour. Perhaps they were another reason for keeping the leopard under lock and key.

Back on the tram, we saw strange swine-like creatures called ‘bearded pigs’, water buffalo (so big!) and an elephant family. The keepers were very proud of the baby male elephant munching away on foliage near our track. He had been born at the Night Safari. Baby Male’s mother and other females loped around to the rear of the large enclosure, whilst the adult bull was located at a safe distance on the other side of the track. This enclosure, alone, made our visit to the Night Safari worthwhile. It was also interesting to see animals I’d never heard of before: the Malayan tapir, the babirusa, and the capybara, a giant rodent from South America.

The tram journey finished, the animal smells receded and we walked past a fire-eating performance to the shops. Inside were soft toys of many of the animals we’d seen tonight, along with the usual key rings, souvenir pens and tee shirts. It was time to leave. It was getting late, and it had finally stopped raining.

We returned to the hotel where there was just enough time for a quick bite before bed. At the brasserie called ‘The Line’, we sat on a terrace near the mini-golf course and pool. There, I ate a pile of a local specialty, called Mee Goreng, consisting of fried noddles tossed with onion, vegetables, tomato, chilli and egg. The chef here had added king prawns, just one of many variations on the Mee Goreng theme available from hawker stalls and restaurants throughout Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Following on from a long and busy day, I loved my mee – a perfect (almost) midnight snack.

Back in our room, the housekeepers had ‘turned us down’, so to speak. On our pillows were chocolates and bookmarks bearing a quote from the book, Lost Horizon, by James Hilton, in which Shangri-La is a mysterious Utopia where the four survivors of a plane crash seek refuge.

“That evening, after dinner, Conway made occasion to leave the others and stroll out into the calm, moon-washed courtyards. Shangri-La was lovely then, touched with the mystery that lies at the core of all loveliness. Conway was physically happy, emotionally satisfied and mentally at ease.”

Lucky Conway. What an Epicurean state of being.

To read the previous instalment, click here.

To read the next instalment, click here.

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