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Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens Saigon Zoo review - 7 March 2017

Discussion in 'Vietnam' started by Chlidonias, 7 Mar 2017.

  1. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    I'd read some very different opinions on the Saigon Zoo, from horrendous to good. It turned out to be a bit of both. The zoo is set in a botanic garden so it is very pleasant to walk around. There were some good enclosures which would look at home in a western zoo but there were also a lot of terrible cages, the worst of the lot being a chimp in a glass box which almost made me walk out of the zoo on the spot. The Small Mammals were a mix of good and bad; the large Carnivores were mostly bad; the primates were mostly okay apart for the apes which were terrible; the hooved stock were the best off of all the mammals. Birds and reptiles were mostly good.

    I was staying at Pham Ngu Lao, as most of the tourists do. It's only a couple of kilometres from the zoo and there are several different bus routes which run directly past the zoo gates for 6000 Dong (about US$0.25). The zoo itself only costs 50,000 Dong (US$2.20 - in contrast to the Vinpearl Safari on Phu Quoc Island which has an entry fee of 500,000 Dong!). There are several entry gates to the zoo; I came in through gate number three which is next to the Reptile House.

    The Reptile House is less a "house" than a covered semi-circular walk between large glass-fronted enclosures. There is little variety in species, the bulk of the tanks housing Burmese pythons, common iguanas, water monitors and clouded monitors. Very many individuals of each of these species. The few others were Thai water dragons, a couple of small Siamese crocodiles, some reticulated pythons, and some freshwater turtles. One tank rather appallingly held two sea turtles in a shallow pool. Except for that latter instance, there was nothing wrong with any of the tanks; they were large and all had pools and branches and planted areas. In the centre of the "house" (outside) was a large-ish enclosure for small-clawed otters, the island in the middle of which was covered in concrete reptiles. Reptiles elsewhere in the zoo were restricted to the Crocodile Garden where there is a raised walkway between pools - almost all Siamese crocodiles apart for one estuarine crocodile and an empty pool labelled for Cuban crocodile.

    The zoo is quite spread out through the gardens and there are a few paths going here and there which take you to amusement rides, orchid houses, staff-only areas. I just took every path I found to be sure of seeing every enclosure. There is a general clustering of "types", so carnivores mostly together, birds mostly together, ungulates mostly together, but it isn't very strict and there are bits and pieces everywhere. Most of the cages are now glass-fronted - in the gallery there are photos by Maguari from 2012 which show the lions and tigers behind bars; these cages are all glass (or perspex) now. It makes photography well-nigh impossible with the reflections (and the stand-off barrier not allowing the lens to be placed against the glass) but it does give them a less "cage" look to the general public. It was really noticeable for me at the tiger cages, where one empty cage on the end had been left with bars and a sign saying this was a relic of the old cages - but all the tiger cages attached to this were exactly the same apart for the bars having been replaced with glass. There was only one Big Cat cage which was of a proper size in my opinion, and it housed a white tiger (another white tiger was in a smaller, but okay-sized, cage).

    The first set of Small Mammal cages I came to, near the Reptile House, was pretty good. They weren't huge but they weren't tiny either. They were glass-fronted and concrete-floored, but with planted areas and a raised straw-filled platform at the back. The species here have changed a bit since other peoples' visits, so no fishing cats or large Indian civets or yellow-throated martens. Instead lots of leopard cats (at least ten of them), some common and masked palm civets, small Indian civet (which I didn't see), and Asian brush-tailed porcupines (in the poorest cage, just all concrete).

    A similar set-up next door was for larger cats and was not good because every cage was simply too small - two were for individual leopards, two others were combined for clouded leopards (which I didn't see but one half of the glass was covered with a tarpaulin and there was a sign in Vietnamese and English saying they were breeding), one was for a solitary Asian golden cat (I didn't see any others at the zoo), and one for a leopard cat. In some cages were little signs pointing up (to where the leopard cat obviously spent most of its time) or down behind the plants (to where the golden cat was sitting).

    On the other side of the zoo were just awful cages for more Small Mammals - too small, all concrete, but at least with branches and logs for furniture. They reminded me of the horrible cages at a little zoo in New Zealand when I was growing up, which had cages built in the 1960s. There were a lot of small-clawed and smooth-coated otters here - numerous cages of each, not all of which had water - as well as a pair of what looked like Arctic foxes (?) almost passed-out in the heat (33 degrees today), and at least two Owston's palm civets (unlabelled and almost invisible inside a log at the back of a mostly-bare concrete cage - I had to use my binoculars to see what they were!). This row of cages then turned into a row of aviaries, which were generally okay, and some cages for doucs - one held red-shanked doucs and three held black-shanked doucs. Directly after were two small pens for spotted hyaena (with pups) and golden jackal.

    More Small Mammals were scattered about the zoo in stand-alone vertical bird cages, for want of a better description. Imagine a larger version of the home parrot cage. This sort of cage is unsuitable for pretty much any animal you could think of, but you see them all over Asia, even in the zoos which are otherwise very good. Here a few were empty, and I'd like to think they are phasing these monstrosities out, but others still held, for example, a small Asian mongoose running repeatedly in circles, a pair of Con Dao giant squirrels, and (in a somewhat larger, more Victorian-looking, example), a Burmese ferret-badger asleep inside a log.

    For large Carnivores, the lions were in very small cages, the tigers were in almost-as-small cages, one white tiger had a relatively huge enclosure. There was a nice island for Asiatic black bears with grass, climbing equipment, and a waterfall and pool. In the concrete moat around it luckless crested porcupines wandered looking for somewhere dark to sleep. Behind the bear island was a tiny circular pit-style enclosure for sun bears.

    In contrast to the hit-and-miss of the other mammals the hooved stock were all in enclosures which were at worst adequate but mostly pretty good. There were two separate giraffe enclosures, one shared with zebra and ostrich, which were no smaller than seen in many western zoos. Gemsbok, greater kudu, and a pair of white rhino were in individual yards of a good size. Most of the ungulates were in a pair of large enclosures viewed from a raised walkway. The smaller part housed blue wildebeest and guineafowl, and the much-larger part housed a mixed collection of mainly-Asian species - Burmese Eld's deer, sika, sambar, common muntjac, hog deer, and a couple of wildebeest.

    There weren't many primates in total at the zoo, and no macaques at all that I saw which was surprising. Ring-tailed lemurs, squirrel monkeys and a De Brazza's monkey had average-sized glass-fronted enclosures with brightly-painted walls and play-equipment, like a kindergarten version of monkey cages. The cages looked quite garish but they weren't too bad otherwise. The douc cages mentioned earlier were (except for one smaller one) reasonably tall. The Annamese silvered langurs (labelled under the old lumped name of T. cristatus) were in a huge old cage from last century or earlier, shared with peacocks and ring-necked pheasants; but on the end were two awful vertical cages for pileated and buff-cheeked gibbons. In another part of the zoo was a very good treed island for a pair of buff-cheeked gibbons, which was quite a contrast.

    As always (seemingly), the very worst cages at the zoo were reserved for the great apes. There appeared to be only two individuals at the zoo, a male orangutan and a chimpanzee. The orangutan was on an island which probably looked great to visitors, but it was really very small with just a couple of platforms for climbing on. The trees on the island were hot-wired. The orangutan was slumped on the ground on his stomach, against the wall, looking like he wanted to die. (I don't tend to anthropomorphicise animals, but with great apes you can relate to their behaviour). The chimp was much much worse. I don't know what the situation was when Maguari, devilfish, FunkyGibbon, et al visited in the last few years, but the chimp was (almost literally) just kept in a glass box. I think it might be the case that this was a very small barred cage and, like the lions and tigers, they have simply replaced the bars with glass. There was no other part to the enclosure, just a glass box with a barred roof from which hung a couple of tyres, and a concrete house at one end. Just horrible.

    I don't really know how to rate the Saigon Zoo. I don't know if I'd even recommend people to visit it. There are good parts, but they are quite out-weighed by the great apes and some other examples like the sun bears and Big Cats. It seems like the zoo is trying to bring the standards of the zoo up, by replacing bars with glass for example, and placing planted areas within some of the cages for the security of the animals. And there are very good enclosures there too, like the gibbon island. But I wouldn't count it amongst the better zoos in Asia - although by the same token it is certainly not amongst the worst.
    Brum likes this.
  2. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007


    *Ring-tailed Lemur
    *De Brazza's Monkey
    *Squirrel Monkey
    *Red-shanked Douc - at least one pair with young (I couldn't see them well in their cage though)
    *Black-shanked Douc - several animals
    *Annamese Silvered Langur (Trachypithecus margarita - labelled as Silvered Leaf Monkey Trachypithecus cristatus which is an old pre-split name
    *Pileated Gibbon
    *Buff-cheeked Gibbon (labelled as gabriellae)
    *Orangutan - just one male as far as I saw
    *Common Chimpanzee - just one as far as I saw
    *Indochinese Tiger - at least three or four
    *White Tiger - two
    *African Lion
    *[White Lion not seen - part of the lion cages were blocked off on my visit]
    *Indochinese Leopard - two
    *Indochinese Clouded Leopard (did not see but they were in the cage)
    *Asian Golden Cat - one
    *Indochinese Leopard Cat - lots!
    *Asiatic Black Bear
    *Sun Bear
    *Arctic Fox (I think - not sure what else they could have been? Just labelled as Vulpes sp.)
    *Golden Jackal
    *Spotted Hyaena
    *Burmese Ferret-badger
    *Owston's Palm Civet
    *Masked Palm Civet
    *Common Palm Civet
    *[Binturong - enclosure was empty]
    *Small Asian Mongoose
    *Small-clawed Otter
    *Smooth-coated Otter
    *Malayan Crested Porcupine
    *Asian Brush-tailed Porcupine
    *Can Dao Giant Squirrel (Ratufa bicolor condorensis)
    *Asian Elephant
    *Przewalski's Horse
    *Common Zebra
    *White Rhinoceros
    *Common Hippopotamus
    *Pigmy Hippopotamus
    *Blue Wildebeest
    *Greater Kudu
    *Eld's Deer (Burmese thamin)
    *Hog Deer
    *Common Muntjac
    *Lesser Mouse Deer
    *domestic Goats
    *Asian Wild Pig
    *Bactrian Camel


    *Oriental Darter
    *Asian Little Cormorant
    *Spot-billed Pelican
    *Purple Gallinule - possibly wild, but on the zoo lake with the free-range wading birds
    *Greater Flamingo
    *Black Swan
    *Chinese Geese (domestic)
    *Knob-billed Duck
    *Ruddy Shelduck
    *Lesser Whistling Duck
    *Mandarin Duck
    *Spot-billed Duck
    *Scarlet Ibis
    *Glossy Ibis
    *Asiatic Black-headed Ibis - possibly wild, but on the zoo lake with the free-range wading birds
    *Little Egret - possibly wild, but on the zoo lake with the free-range wading birds
    *Purple Heron
    *Lesser Adjutant - breeding birds in an aviary, and also free-range on the lake
    *Painted Stork - breeding birds in an aviary, and also free-range on the lake
    *Woolly-necked Stork
    *Changeable Hawk-eagle (? - unlabelled and I couldn't get a proper look at them)
    *Helmeted Guineafowl (domestic)
    *Blue Peafowl
    *Green Peafowl
    *Rheinhardt's Crested Argus (six aviaries of pairs or trios)
    *Germain's Peacock-pheasant
    *Ring-necked Pheasant
    *Silver Pheasant (annamensis and nominate)
    *Scarlet Macaw
    *Blue and Gold Macaw
    *Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
    *[Moluccan and Umbrella Cockatoos also labelled, may have been present]
    *domestic Doves (free-flying)
    *Great Hornbill
    *Oriental Pied Hornbill
    *Hill Mynah
    *Black-collared Starling
    *Red-billed Blue Magpie


    *Burmese Python (including albinos)
    *Reticulated Python
    *Common Iguana
    *Thai Water Dragon
    *Water Monitor
    *Clouded Monitor (labelled as Bengal Monitor Varanus bengalensis, of which nebulosus was/is treated as a subspecies)
    *Elongated Tortoise
    *Yellow-headed Temple Turtle
    *Giant Asian Pond Turtle
    *Amboina Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis kamaroma)
    *Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys tcheponensis)
    *[Other freshwater chelonians may have been present but not seen in the Reptile House]
    *Sea Turtle (unsure on species)
    *Siamese Crocodile
    *Estuarine Crocodile
    *[Cuban Crocodile - labelled but not present in the enclosure]
    Brum and snowleopard like this.
  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    it might be a while before I can upload all the photos from the zoo, but I have put two on here to show the extremes of good and bad - the island for Buff-cheeked Gibbons (the pair is visible in the photo for scale) and the Chimpanzee cage:


  4. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

    11 Jan 2015
    Changzhou, China
    It sounds like very little has changed in the last 13 months. Possibly the only thing that jumped out of your write-up is the unwelcome addition of sea turtles; I'm sure I would remember seeing that. I think there was more diversity of crocodiles as well, which is a shame because that's one of the only 'good' areas of the zoo. I think it's worth pointing out that one can, as I did, spend a very pleasant lunchtime watching the various birds, some wild and some I imagine tame, which call the lake their own. Telling this involves choosing a vantage point where no enclosures are visible.

    I would also say that the giant brick and iron multidomed ediface that currently houses the silvered langurs is one of my all-time favourite enclosures. Still adequate for its inhabits, and rather breathtaking in appearance, it is, I think, the answer to the question: 'should I visit?'
  5. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    I wasn't sure which of the birds on the lake were wild and which were zoo birds. The adjutants and painted storks, although free-flighted, were obviously zoo birds. There was one black-headed ibis which was probably a zoo bird as well. Probably the little egrets and possibly the purple gallinules were wild. The only ones I was almost definitely sure were wild were the pond herons.

    I saw moustached parakeets at the zoo too, near the ungulate bridge, and also a lot of brown rats. Like, everywhere.
  6. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    1 Dec 2007
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    @Chlidonias Thanks very much for the review. That chimp-in-a-box enclosure is just nasty, and it sounds as if most of us on this forum would detest the bulk of the carnivore exhibits.
  7. Brum

    Brum Well-Known Member

    27 May 2011
    Birmingham, UK
    There's some very interesting species in that list but I notice there's not many SE Asian primates, two species of douc are nice though... No pangolin left either?

    And are you likely to be visiting the Pangolin And Small Carnivore Conservation Centre whilst in Vietnam? I'm still waiting for @FunkyGibbon to write up their review but if you visit then it might be a bit quicker! :p
  8. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    the chimp in a box was one of the most depressing things I've ever seen in a zoo, and I've been to a lot of bad zoos in Asia.

    For the carnivores, I think about the only ones which would get a pass would be the first set of small mammal enclosures I discussed, and the large white tiger enclosure. The other white tiger enclosure was okay, the Indochinese tiger enclosures average at best. The black bear island was fine too, and could easily have been in a European or American zoo I think.

    The rest of the small mammal cages, I would hope, would not be acceptable to anyone on here; and likewise I would expect most people to agree that the lion cages were way too small. The sun bear pit also was detestable.
  9. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    well six out of the ten primates are southeast Asian :p

    No pangolins unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately - depends on your point of view).

    I am planning on visiting Cuc Phuong National Park, which is where the mentioned centre is (and also the primate centre) - I should be visiting those but it isn't a definite. It will probably be a month or so away.

    When I visit zoos I try to get the reviews written within the first day or two so that it is fresh, otherwise you start modifying what you actually saw, such as deciding cages are better or worse than you originally thought. Basically I want to get down my opinions straight away. If others who have been there have different views then that is fine, because we all see things differently.
  10. Brum

    Brum Well-Known Member

    27 May 2011
    Birmingham, UK
    Six out of ten is 60% but ten species in total isn't a lot for a zoo of Saigon's size and relative popularity... :p

    I've never done a zoo review as I never write them up after visiting and after a few days I start doubting what I saw, pretty much like you've just said! ;) Also, I don't think I've ever visited a zoo that isn't extremely well visited or written about by others on the forum so I always think it would be a futile use of time! :p
  11. Maguari

    Maguari Never could get the hang of Thursdays. Premium Member

    12 Oct 2007
    Chesterfield, Derbyshire
    All three of these were in similar enclosures when I was there in 2012 (right down to the pacing mongoose); if it's a phase out it's a very slow one.

    I'm sure there were two orangs in 2012; the chimp enclosure appears to have been a different (and marginally preferable - certainly taller) one at that time as well: Chimpanzee Exhibit at Saigon Zoo, 16/03/12 | ZooChat

    Otherwise doesn't sound like the place has changed much - other than the jealousy-induced arrival of the Black-shanks! Overall I don't think it's dreadful, but parts of it certainly are. I was probably a little better-disposed to it having visited Hanoi Zoo shortly before and it being a glorious sunny day (which always tends to make a place feel nicer), but it's not somewhere I'd decline to return to.

    For comparison, here's the 2012 on-show list:
    Asian Elephant

    Red-shanked Douc Langur

    Silvered Langur

    Pileated Gibbon

    Buff-cheeked Gibbon

    Southern White-cheeked Gibbon



    Mainland Chinese Pangolin

    Asian Golden Cat

    Indochinese Clouded Leopard

    African Lion

    South African Lion (white form)

    Indochinese Leopard

    Tiger (white form)

    Indochinese Tiger

    Chinese Leopard Cat

    Fishing Cat

    Small Asian Mongoose


    Common Palm Civet

    Large Indian Civet

    Small Indian Civet

    Asian Golden Jackal

    Smooth-coated Otter

    Indochinese Yellow-throated Marten

    Burmese Ferret-Badger

    Malayan Sun Bear

    Asian Black Bear

    Przewalski's Horse

    Plains Zebra

    Southern White Rhinoceros

    Asian Wild Boar

    Pygmy Hippopotamus

    Common Hippopotamus


    Domestic Goat

    Black-bearded Brindled Gnu



    Domestic Sheep

    Greater Kudu

    Hog Deer

    Vietnamese Sika

    Indian Muntjac

    Eld's Deer


    Condao Black Giant Squirrel

    Asian Brush-tailed Porcupine

    Malayan Porcupine


    Asian Darter

    Spot-billed Pelican

    Indian Cormorant

    Grey Heron

    Purple Heron

    Cattle Egret

    Intermediate Egret

    Black-crowned Night Heron

    Asian Woolly-necked Stork

    Greater Adjutant

    Lesser Adjutant

    Painted Stork

    Oriental White Ibis

    Greater Flamingo

    Indochinese Spotbill

    Javan Whistling Duck

    Comb Duck

    Long-billed Vulture

    White-bellied Sea Eagle

    Bonelli's Eagle

    Crested Serpent Eagle

    Helmeted Guineafowl

    Bamboo Hill Partridge

    Edwards' Pheasant

    Common Silver Pheasant

    Blue Peafowl

    Indochinese Green Peafowl

    Common Pheasant

    Rheinardt's Crested Argus

    Grey-headed Purple Swamphen

    Umbrella Cockatoo

    Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

    Moluccan Cockatoo

    Masked Lovebird (including hybrids)

    Blue and Yellow Macaw

    Green-winged Macaw

    Scarlet Macaw

    Alexandrine Parakeet

    Congo Grey Parrot

    Oriental Pied Hornbill

    Great Indian Hornbill

    Red-billed Blue Magpie

    White-vented Mynah

    Hill Mynah

    Black-collared Starling

    Saltwater Crocodile

    Cuban Crocodile

    Siamese Crocodile

    Red-eared Slider

    Giant Asian Pond Turtle

    Yellow-headed Temple Turtle

    Elongated Tortoise

    Asian Softshell

    Burmese Python

    Reticulated Python

    Thai Water Dragon

    Green Iguana

    Clouded Monitor

    Asian Water Monitor

    Attached Files:

    snowleopard likes this.
  12. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    16 May 2014
    Interesting review. What I'm wondering about is that you have repeatedly talked about Vietnam being very lacking in wild birds outside of national parks so how lacking are the wild birds in a botanic garden such as this compared to similar city parks in other South East Asian countries?
  13. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

    15 Oct 2010
    Dorset, UK
    I'd visit for the Crested Argus alone!
    Maguari likes this.
  14. Maguari

    Maguari Never could get the hang of Thursdays. Premium Member

    12 Oct 2007
    Chesterfield, Derbyshire
  15. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    yes, I don't really think they are getting rid of those small cages (although the zoos in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur have, so that's something). The one which held the ferret-badger when you were there is one of the empty ones (it is now in what the pangolin was in), and I think the giant squirrels may have moved into a different but identical one based on your photo.

    There may have been a second orangutan inside their house but all the doors into it were shut. The chimp cage from your photo is similar but also not quite the same. I'm not sure where that one is in the zoo, or what is in it now.

    I'm not looking forward to visiting Hanoi Zoo. I may even skip it entirely.
  16. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    six aviaries, all with pairs or trios. All directly next to one another with mesh separating them so I don't know how that affects potential breeding? They are gorgeous birds. I couldn't get any good photos though.
  17. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    in the Mekong Delta area (i.e. when I've been moving between Cambodia and Saigon) I have actually seen more birds than expected from the buses. Not a lot compared to Thailand or Malaysia, but more than I did further north in 2015. And some were larger birds like Indian rollers and black-winged kites.

    Saigon Zoo is the only city park I've visited in Vietnam so I don't have much for comparisons. There were lots of common birds here, like tree sparrows and spot-necked doves. I saw some moustached parakeets too. There wouldn't be any trapping within the gardens so you could expect the commoner birds to still be common. Apparently there are variable squirrels too, but I didn't see any.
    LaughingDove likes this.
  18. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

    25 Jan 2006
    Amsterdam, Holland
    Chli, how many black shanked doucs did they have (you mentioned they had 3 enclosures to themselves)?

    Same question for pileateds and the buff-cheekeds?

    I myself visited Hanoi Zoo, but did not have the timed schedule to visit Ho Chi Minh City Zoo. I am informed the latter is slightly more "modern" Asia style-wise.

    It is also said a well known Western European zoo design company is involved in both the masterplanning and new exhibit design in Saigon Zoo ... At what stage they are right now, I am not sure yet (but will try to find out more).
  19. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    13 Jun 2007
    there was one black-shanked douc in a cage by itself, then a pair (or maybe three animals) in the another cage, and then I think a pair. So about eight animals, but don't quote me on that. There were a lot of school kids parked in front of the whole row of cages so viewing was difficult.

    There was one pair of pileated gibbons, and either one or two pairs of buff-cheeked. One pair of the latter was on an island, and the other was in a cage. But when Maguari visited this pair (in the cage) were northern white-cheeked so it is possible that my brain registered "white-cheeked" as "golden-cheeked" (which is what the zoo calls buff-cheeked), and that in fact they were white-cheeked. I couldn't say for certain now without a return visit.
  20. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

    25 Jan 2006
    Amsterdam, Holland
    @Chli, thanks for your comments.

    I might be able to find what gibbon species they maintain with local staff or conservation friends of mine locally.