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Vinpearl Safari Review - 1st February 2016

Discussion in 'Vietnam' started by FunkyGibbon, 24 Feb 2016.

  1. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    Vinpearl Safari Review

    Apologies for this taking some time. I found out pretty quickly when traveling that I can’t really write as I go; I have no idea how Snowleopard and Chli (amongst others) do it. I’m either too tired, or there is an interesting evening activity, or there is no wifi. But now I’m back in China and I have plenty of time so here we go.

    This review will obviously be read in a different light based on the recent news/allegations about animal deaths at the park. I’m going to acknowledge that now, and then pretty much leave it alone. I have neither the experience nor the evidence to interact with the claims, so I will just say what I saw and have this be a record of my visit. I will be striking a pretty positive tone overall, and that may come to be seen as a mistake, but it is honest.

    So, to begin. This won’t be a walkthrough, but I will describe the approach to the zoo and my initial impressions. I was staying in Mushrooms Hostel in Duong Dong, which is the other end of the island from the zoo. This town is the only one and is very much the hub of Phu Quoc. There are many other places you could stay, including at Vinpearl itself, but I’m fairly sure Mushrooms is the one of the cheapest places. As long as you like the backpacking lifestyle, and backpackers themselves, you will most likely love it. I had a fantastic time there.

    There is a free shuttle bus that runs from the town to the park, but I chose to rent a moped as I wanted the flexibility to explore that part of the island in case it turned out to be a waste of a day. Fortunately not the case. It took me about 45 minutes to get to the zoo and it was a reasonably pleasant ride through forest. A useful piece of advice: if your plan for getting to the zoo involves someone dropping you at the entrance, there is a 5km private road that leads from there to the car park and turnstiles, so watch out for that!

    Approaching the real entrance is a fairly impressive experience; it is heavily themed in a lazy, tribal kind of way and unlike much of the park, you can’t tell it is recently completed. No unfinished details or anything like that. Nothing you haven’t seen elsewhere, but good nonetheless. And the beating sun and surrounding rainforest adds a legitimacy that similar European efforts tend to lack. There is a central avenue with gift shops and food outlets leading to the ticket office.

    Here we come to the first serious problem with the park. The entrance fee is D500,000, which is about 15GBP or $22. That may seem like a reasonable price for a zoo, but in Vietnam it really isn’t. I could very easily buy accommodation, food, entry to a competing attraction, some beers for the evening and still spend less than that. To put it another way, the entry cost to Saigon Zoo is D50,000, literally a tenth of the price. I think this shows that Vinpearl, along with the sister resort and water park, is aimed at an up-market clientele who are looking for a beach holiday (a demographic Phu Quoc seems to be aggressively developing for) rather than backpackers and travelers. This seems like an error. The zoo was really pretty quiet despite having opened that month. Unless you have just arrived in Vietnam and don’t understand the pricing yet, or you are a zoonerd, I really can’t see that many people will pay this. Now people might pay the offered D700,000 for combined entry to water park and safari, but my gut feeling is that the next zoochatter to visit will report a significantly reduced price point.

    Once inside the zoo, as a Dudley regular I was delighted to be greeted by an enclosure for flamingos, Greater in this case. It seemed pretty large and expansive, and strangely lacking in genuine barriers (a theme we will be returning to), and all in all a good exhibit. This one is open-topped, but I noticed a distinct trend in Asian zoos towards flamingo aviaries; I wonder if others would corroborate this?

    This is as good a moment as any to talk about signage; I though it was excellent really. The exhibits signs are glossy and well produced, with a decent amount of information in both English and Vietnamese. Not the best in terms of information density, but absolutely of a high quality. Where the zoo really excels though is in the other signage that is liberally scattered about. Many interesting native tree species have their own signs, giving a botanical gardens feel. There are also some genuinely fascinating boards detailing the history of the botanical study and exploration of the island; Phu Quoc has plenty of endemic flora. Most commendable is the huge number of signs explaining what conservation is, why it is important and what practical step people can take, both in Vietnam and elsewhere. These are sometimes species specific, next to an enclosure, and sometimes more general if they are found in an area between exhibits. It has been said on this site, or at least implied, that the owners/management don’t care about conservation; if so they are doing a very good job of hiding that.

    Having given you a taste of my arrival I will now talk about the zoo in more general terms.

    Geographically, the zoo is situated on a large flat tract of rainforest. There is some undulation but nothing significant. Just based on my approach to the park I would assume that there is huge room for expansion into land already owned, in the future. There are two main sections: half of the zoo is walking trails and half is a drive-through ‘safari’ viewed from buses run by the park. To reach the safari you could take several routes through the zoo, and in general the path layout is sensible. Little backtracking is needed.

    The enclosures are mostly evenly spaced around the site, with a few denser clumps. I like this; most of the time you have something to see, and sometimes you have that pleasant zoo feeling of being surrounded by exhibits. In the quieter stretches you may have to walk around a corner to find the next exhibit. I was reminded quite strongly of a more tropical TierPark (Berlin), which is also largely located in forest.

    Most of the ungulate enclosures retain many of their trees, so they feel connected to the jungle around them. I think this also provide the inhabitants with a greater amount of privacy, as the backs of the enclosures are fairly shielded from view. The paddocks are quite functional, with smart green fencing and clearly visible housing. They are almost all just above average in size for the species they hold. There are exceptions to this, but these are due to enclosures being repurposed away from their intended inhabitants.

    The carnivore enclosures come in two distinct flavours. For the larger cats there is a template enclosure that is repeated throughout the zoo: A deep dry moat at the front, fenced sides and rear, lots of trees and planting, some logs and wooden platforms and some mock rock. These are undersized by European standards (which is of course not to say they are not better than plenty I have seen back home), but visitors to Singapore will be familiar with the style. The one criticism here is that the dry moats are protected by low hot fences, which vastly reduce the usable space in the enclosure. It’s possible these are temporary, because the moats tended to be unfinished in terms of landscaping, but probably not.

    For the smaller carnivores, the enclosures are mostly smallish roofed cages, and whilst they are nowhere near as bad as elsewhere in Asia, these were definitely my low point of the zoo. Tending to be barren as well, there wasn’t a lot to enjoy here. This is frustrating, because the potential for excellent enclosures is obvious. Imagine Port Lympne’s Binturong exhibit in tropical rainforest. Or Chester’s Serval enclosure. Or Banham’s open-topped Leopard exhibit. (These three species all featured amongst Vinpearl’s most disappointing offerings)

    There are three large walkthrough aviaries in the zoo. One is a rather pedestrian affair mostly featuring Indian Peafowl and another contains ducks, egrets and allegedly various passerines, which I never saw. The third, which is actually the second you would see on any sensible walking route, is very different affair. Literally stuffed full of birds, of many different kinds, it is an amazing experience. I’ve no doubt that there are too many from a welfare perspective, but it was rather astonishing for the visitor. They have gentle mood music piped through speakers in the background as well. All three aviaries are huge, with twisting paths and mock rock waterfalls. If they can get the balance of numbers right they would have three wonderful exhibits.

    Overall the emphasis on large mammals is the obvious weakness of the collection. Apart from these aviaries, the flamingos, some black swans, Siamese crocodiles and tortoises, I think it’s all mammals. Which is a shame of course, but is pretty much par for the course amongst more commercial zoos everywhere. The zoo would certainly benefit from expanding its collection, and this may well happen in due course.

    The last area of the zoo I want to describe is the safari drive-through. You board a large, air-conditioned bus, which has clearly not been designed for the purpose. Three issues: the front is mostly standing only, the back is raised like any commuter bus and so has very small windows, and the doors are electronically operated. I’m not sure what standard procedure is as I don’t usually do safari park type things but I would have liked to see a physical latch. According to the map the safari section takes up half of the footprint of the park although I suspect it is less than this. It is a succession of unremarkable drive-though enclosures containing White Rhino, Giraffe, Water Buffalo, Common or Giant Eland, Tiger, Sambar and Sika Deer, Lions in a curiously Mexican themed exhibit and finally an African Plains style enclosure that contained at least wildebeest, nyala and ostrich. I’m a bit loose on species details for this section because the only information was a Vietnamese-speaking announcer.

    The whole experience was somewhat underwhelming, as I think these rides usually are for zoochatters. You don’t get enough time to see the things you are interested in, you can’t get away from annoying fellow visitors, and the views you do get are often inferior to those seen on foot. But they are very popular with most visitors so I get that. I have two specific problems with the set-up here. The tiger enclosure has a secondary loop road to allow visitors to get really close to any animals who want to get away from the main road. When you consider buses are every 15 minutes there is potentially a lot of stress involved. The second problem is a wider one: this is a park that’s basically been cut out of the rainforest. That’s a situation that lends itself very well to long narrow wooded enclosures with multiple viewing points. It doesn’t necessarily make for good drive-through spaces. At Vinpearl the safari enclosures are small compared to the ‘game reserve’ experience you would expect, and I really don’t think it works for this park. Obviously it won’t be changed because they need to market as a safari but there we go. Lastly it’s worth pointing out that at the time of my visit many of the deer had already worked out how to navigate the cattle grids, so that will need to be looked at.

    The only other thing I want to say about enclosures is to praise the Asian Elephant exhibit. It has two large outdoor enclosures, and a large barn as well. Both enclosures contain large amounts of forest left within them. It remains to be seen if this will survive long-term (there was some damage but nowhere near as much as could have been done), but at least it will provide short-term enrichment! One of the enclosures also contains a small lake, which should provide enjoyment for visitors and elephants alike. I thought this was fantastic, easily the best enclosure for elephants I have ever seen. At the moment the park holds four females, but they should be able to add a bull without much problem.

    One thing I noticed when walking round the park is that there were several instances of species being held in enclosures that seemed wholly inappropriate for them. Tigers in the mirror enclosure of one holding a monkey species next to them, oryxes in tiny enclosures with fences that were obviously designed to contain predators, as well as overcrowding in some instances. I later found out that quite a few species were being held in exhibits designed for others in order to avoid empty enclosures on opening day. As more animals arrive to fill these enclosures the zoo will make a bit more sense I think.

    There are various other signs that the park is new, or at least there were on my visit. Several enclosures were actively being worked on during my visit. Many enclosures look unfinished; a bit of tarp poking out from under some soil or similar, and a lot of the planting is obviously immature. I went to watch the animal show and nothing happened! I guess they’re still in training. There were also other ‘teething’ problems like the monkey cage not being able to contain the monkeys.

    So that is my description of the park. I will say that walking round it is a very pleasant experience; the enclosures are attractive to look at, and are set into beautiful forest. The inhabitants seemed relaxed and settled in, and honestly my impression was that this was a very good zoo. There were absolutely things that you would like to see improved, as with any zoo, but really most of the infrastructure and enclosures seem excellent. All of the online criticism is centered around management. I can’t comment on this, but I would say that if this physical zoo were transplanted to the UK, with appropriate adjustments for climate, it would easily be considered as ‘very good’. And if it added more bird exhibits, a reptile house, a small mammal/nocturnal house and an aquarium (three steps that seem logical for the future), it would be considered amongst the best.

    I hope people have enjoyed this write-up, or at least found it somewhat informative. I don’t think it is my best writing but when read alongside the images that will ultimately be added to the gallery it should give a feeling for the park. Eventually something approaching the full story will emerge about this place and then a proper judgement can be made. If nothing else, it has a lot of potential.


    Postscript:
    I will add a species list after this. I am currently unable to upload photos to the site; I am experiencing a range of connectivity issues that I hope to be resolved soon so this should change. A picture says a thousand words and I know people are keen to see the park from a boots on the ground perspective.
     
  2. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    Vinpearl Safari Species List

    Lion
    (White Lion)
    Indochinese Tiger
    Bengal Tiger
    (White Bengal Tiger)
    Leopard
    Serval
    Caracal
    Striped Hyena
    Bat Eared Fox
    Sun Bear
    Asian Black Bear
    Binturong

    Asian Elephant
    White Rhino
    Giraffe
    Burchell’s Zebra
    Greater Kudu
    Common Eland
    Bongo
    Wildebeest (sp. Unknown)
    Nyala
    Arabian Oryx
    Klipspringer
    Blue Duiker
    Sika Deer
    Sambar Deer
    Muntjac sp. (probably Red)
    Wild Boar
    African Wild Boar
    Bach Thao Goat
    Water Buffalo
    Ankole Cattle
    Dromedary

    Squirrel Monkey
    Silvered Langur
    Crab Eating Macaque
    Stump-tailed Macaque
    Pig-tailed Macaque
    Hamadrayas Baboon
    Yellow Cheeked Gibbon
    Ring Tailed Lemur
    Malayan Porcupine
    Kangaroo (Macropus….)

    Ostrich
    Greater Flamingo
    (There is little point trying to list the bird species. The aviary signage is woefully incomplete and inaccurate. Interested parties will have to wait for my delayed picture upload.)

    Siamese Crocodile
    Unknown Tortoise Species


    As stated in the main review there may well be more species in the drivethrough that I either didn't see or was unable to correctly identify.
     
  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    thanks for that.

    The wildebeest are blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus taurinus).

    What is an "African wild boar"? Is that a typo?
     
  4. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    No. Indochinese langur margarita or germaini?

    Sika deer ... the native Vietnam?
     
  5. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    the silvered langurs in the species list are Indochinese silvered langurs (T. germaini).
     
  6. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh boy.....

    I didn't know that Wild Boar weren't found in Africa today, so I didn't notice this at the time. The signage says African Wild Boar, Sus scrofa, and features a distribution map that exactly matches that of the Common Warthog. On the zoo map there is a picture of a warthog marking this enclosure. So clearly what has happened is that the Warthog haven't arrived yet and the boars are being used as a stand in. It's very disappointing they felt the need to pretend they were from Africa, and actively misinform the public.
     
  7. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Vinpearl.....

    Looking forward to photographs and potential bird species list.
     
  8. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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    Thank you very much for this intresting review FunkyGibbon ! Sounds like an intresting place - as did the many news-articles around its opening and lets hope the bad news about the many dead animals is mainly / partly made up by newspapers which want to give this place a bad name....
    Lets hope the management learns from the failures made and let this park become a center of conservation in a country which can use such a place more then any other country !
    Hope other ZooChatters will also be able to visit it and give us more first-hand experience.
    Like FBBird looking forward to the potential bird-list and your pictures !
     
  9. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    I will really struggle with bird lists simply because the signage was so incomplete and I am geberally not knowledgeable enough to do my own IDs with birds. But when I do get the pictures uploaded you can all have fun working out what's there.
     
  10. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for this FunkyGibbon, it's always nice to get more details about intriguing new collections. I've been particularly interested having visited the sister water park in Nha Trang. :)
     
  11. Zooish

    Zooish Well-Known Member

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    Thanks FunkyGibbon for all the photos and review. This is probably the largest zoo development in Southeast Asia in recent times.

    I will have to disagree that the infrastructure and enclosures are good. Yes, the enclosures are spacious which is great, but they are literally one-size fits all type of contructions. They don't take into account each individual species' needs and security requirements. No responsible zoo would put tigers in an enclosure meant for primates, temporary or otherwise. The barriers for the big cat enclosures seem to be of a similar grade to those of small mammals and primates, which is worrying. The aviaries' netting also looks like nylon rather than industry-standard stainless steel. It will probably tear in no time.

    Also I notice a lot of the moats are literally just dug out earth pits, and those with water just a have a tarp covering the soil. It is the dry season now but I can imagine the park will become a muddy mess, with flooding and erosion during the monsoon. It is a real safety and health concern for the animals.

    I'm not convinced that the owners have the animals' interests at heart.
     
  12. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    Unless I missed something, it is the single biggest zoo development in the world in the recent years.

    Thanks for the report and (soon) pictures. What I seen, some primate and smaller cat cages are under-structured, but it is overall a good zoo. Especially that it is still worked at, so any shortcomings might be improved.

    It is really pity, that eg. Europe cannot really show any new zoo or zoo development of similar magnitude in the recent years.
     
  13. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    It's inescapable that the zoo opened before it was ready, and that a lot of the problems with the enclosures are a direct product of this. As Jurek says, many of these problems will be fixed by maintenance, and in some places moving species around. So while temporarily housing tigers in a primate enclosure may be just cause for criticism, in a year's time these things may be all forgotten. Or they may be at the top of a long list of complaints. Time will tell.

    "What will happen in the rainy season?" is a question I saw raised on facebook, particularly in regards to the numbers of animals they have brought in, and the damage they may do to the ground. I don't really know anything about this but it is troubling.

    I'm less convinced by your cookie-cutter argument. Most of the enclosures have plenty of furniture and enrichment, as well as lots of substrates. Zoos are always repurposing exhibits for new inhabitants, mostly successfully. There's no reason why a template style approach can't work if the details and adjustments take the inhabitants into consideration. Obviously containment is a little different and I'm a bit out of my depth there.

    It might be fairer to say the owners don't have a full understanding of the animals' interests. It might not be obvious from the pictures, but I think they really have tried to build a world-class zoo. In many ways they have fallen short, and the reports of all the deaths are terrible, but my feeling is that the intent is there. Again, it will be some time before a fair verdict can be passed.

    All the pictures I intend to upload are now in the gallery.