SINGAPORE - Like many Singaporeans, I have fond memories of going to the Singapore Zoo as a child.
I have also visited several times in recent years and they have always been free-and-easy affairs. I decided to experience it a little differently this time by engaging a guide from local travel company Xperience Singapore to take my family around the exhibits.
And I can happily say that the Zoo - Declassified! tour has given me a newfound appreciation for our beloved park.
In a tour that lasted more than two hours, I learnt a lot more about the different species and why their exhibits are built a certain way, more than I would have from just reading the signboards.
Our experienced guide could rattle off trivia and answer a barrage of questions, mostly from my seven-year-old older daughter.
Children are naturally inquisitive and I am just glad there was an expert there to save me from having to Google for answers every few minutes.
We took the morning tour, which started at 10am, and headed to the Treetrop Trails to look for Anna and Ako, a pair of tree-swinging siamangs or gibbons. Our guide talked about the zoo's open concept and free-ranging areas, which allow the animals to roam about in natural surroundings without being confined to cages and bars.
Over at the free-ranging area for orangutans, it was quite a sight to see the primates manoeuvre the interconnecting vines right above your head.
What's to stop the animals from just escaping if there are no cages to hold them in, my seven-year-old asked. Our guide explained that the zoo uses several ways to keep animals in- for example, having a moat around animals that cannot swim.
He added, by giving the animals enough food and water and shelter, they are content to stay and not make a break for it.
The zoo also gives the animals plenty of opportunities to act out their natural instincts. For example, the cheetahs chase after mechanised rabbits as a form of exercise, and meat for the big cats are hidden in gunny sacks for them to tear into.
We learnt that animals such as ostriches and zebras are placed together to create "positive stress" so they will not get bored. And male baboons sometimes "steal" babies from the females just to be fatherly, something that many dads can identify with.
I had always wondered about the white rhino. Judging by the dirty brown tone of its hide, I found its name a bit of a stretch.
But as our guide explained, the name comes from the Afrikaans word "weit", referring to their wide muzzle, which somehow later became "white".
The zoo's Fragile Forest zone, a biodome built as a tropical rainforest habitat, was a hit with the kids. My two daughters could not resist the oh-so-cute free-roaming animals, from mousedeer and eclectus parrots to two-toed sloths and Malayan flying foxes.
The tour covered about 70 per cent of the zoo. After it ended at the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia exhibit, my family took a break there and we later continued on our own to look for the white tiger and hippos.
The price of the Zoo - Declassified! tour ($35 for adults and $30 for children) does not include admission to the zoo (from $31.20 for adults, $20.80 for children and $18 for senior citizens).
The Zoo - Declassified! tour is only available on Mondays in December because of the large turnout due to the school holidays. From January 2021 onwards, the tours will be moved to the weekends.
The zoo also conducts its own tours, although some have been suspended. For now, only the Private Buggy Tour is available (from $240 onwards for up to five people) but it is fully booked until the end of December.
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Zoo - Declassified!
WHAT: Guided tour of the Singapore Zoo
WHERE: 80 Mandai Lake Road
FEE: $35 for adults and $30 for children for the tour, from $31.20 for adults, $20.80 for children and $18 for senior citizens for admission. SingapoRediscover vouchers accepted
DURATION: Two hours
COMPANY: Xperience Singapore and Wildlife Reserves Singapore