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Zooboy28 Returns to Singapore

Discussion in 'Singapore' started by zooboy28, 29 Jan 2016.

  1. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    I thought I would write up a short review of my partner and I’s recent trip to Singapore, where we spent the last week of 2015. Singapore is arguably the number one zoo destination in South East Asia, if not all of Asia, and makes a useful stopover between Australasia and many other destinations. I previously spent five days here in December 2011 (see this thread: http://www.zoochat.com/2/my-most-awesome-world-zoo-tour-235130/) and was very keen to revisit some of my favourite animal collections, visit new ones, and explore other places I had not been to on my previous trip. I will be keeping this thread relatively short (don’t expect TLD-level details on each zoo!), but if you want more information please ask.
     
  2. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Day One:

    We departed Melbourne, Australia on the afternoon of Boxing Day 2015, for an almost 8 hour flight with Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines is a decent airline, with good food, seats and entertainment, plus complementary cocktails (Singapore Slings of course). I watched a few movies (all sequels): Ted 2, Pitch Perfect 2, and Vacation, all of which had some quite amusing moments. Eventually we descended over the twinkling metropolis of Singapore and landed in the world’s best airport. After clearing immigration, getting baggage and some local cash out, we took a shuttle bus to our hotel. This was the Grand Mercure Roxy, which was a very nice hotel, but in a rather distant location. By now it was 11pm (but 2am to us) so we headed to bed before our first day in Singapore and first two zoos.
     
  3. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Day Two

    To get to anywhere from our hotel, we had to take a bus or taxi to the nearest MRT station and then take a train. Singapore has ridiculously effective public transport, so it was all very easy and efficient, and relatively cheap. We took a train first to HarbourFront station, and then bought return tickets for the cable car, which took us first up Mount Faber, with views across the city and some secondary rainforest, before taking us across the water to Sentosa Island. This island is basically a massive tourist trap, with a large range of attractions. After an urgent coffee fix, we explored the Imbiah Lookout area, which includes a boardwalk through the rainforest, where we saw Plantain Squirrels and Pink-necked Green Pigeon, as well as a large number of Peafowl for some reason...

    Nearby was the Sentosa Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, which I had had to skip on my previous visit. This attraction is rather run down, and consists of two large adjacent aviaries holding butterflies and birds, a series of reptile and invertebrate enclosures, and finally an extensive museum type display of insects. The walkthrough aviaries were well-planted, but much of the infrastructure was in need of repair, or at least repainting. In addition to the many butterflies, the first aviary also contained a Crowned Pigeon, while the second contained a number of wing-clipped Scarlet and Blue & Yellow Macaws and a Toco Toucan, plus Green Iguanas and a side exhibit for a Water Monitor. I know little about invertebrates, so my description of the next section is limited. It was more or less a corridor, with a number of small tanks that held a small number of larger bugs, including beetles, tarantulas, scorpions, and millipedes. There was a tank at the end holding a small lizard that I haven’t been able to identify (http://www.zoochat.com/656/id-please-unknown-lizard-dec-2015-a-435576/), followed by the extensive insect museum. The collection here was impressive, but I doubt many visitors spend any real time in here. The live exhibits need a major upgrade if the park is to remain attractive and viable, hopefully this occurs sooner rather than later.

    We then took the cable car to the western end of Sentosa Island, where we walked along a new elevated walkway to Siloso Fort. More Peafowl here, as well as a number of fortifications from World War II. Quite an interesting place, although a little creepy feeling. Back near the cable car station is Underwater World, Sentosa’s original aquarium. This also looked rather rundown and rather quiet, the competition from the newer SEA Aquarium clearly having quite an impact. While we didn’t go in to Underwater World, we did have a look at the outdoor exhibit that you can view without paying (not officially), which holds Sea Turtles. We then headed back to the centre of the Island, and walked through the Orchid Garden down to Palawan Beach, where we had lunch. Nearby is the Palawan Amphitheatre where animal shows are performed, but we only saw the bird cage with common parrot species, and a random pheasant.

    We then took the Monorail back to the centre of the island, and walked down through Resorts World Sentosa to the newest animal attraction – S.E.A. Aquarium. This is a dazzling new aquarium, which primarily focuses on marine species from South East Asia, with a few exceptions (for a comprehensive review see here: http://www.zoochat.com/266/first-visit-s-e-aquarium-25-a-362709/). The entry price has come down a bit since the aquarium opened in late 2012 (from $38 to $32), but we bought a combined Insect Kingdom + S.E.A. Aquarium ticket for just $36, which was good value. Upon entry, you walk through a series of rather dull and very fake displays relating to maritime culture in the region, before descending to the lower ground floor and the aquarium itself. Bizarrely, this entrance area is dominated by a gigantic representation of Noah’s Ark, for totally unfathomable reasons.

    In contrast to Sentosa’s other animal collections, the aquarium itself is slick, modern and generally fantastic. The biogeographic layout of the exhibits is one of my favourite aspects, and is done here better than any other aquarium I have visited. There is also limited theming of the visitor areas, and the tanks and glass are clean and nicely decorated. Although it was Christmas, so there were some annoying decorations in some tanks, and were photographed with Scuba Santa upon entry. Mostly the tanks are medium-sized, with a range of species, with a few smaller ones for individual species, and some large ones too. The massive Open Ocean tank is clearly the signature and standout exhibit, with the Reef Manta Ray being the main highlight for me. Other very commendable exhibits include the diverse Mangrove tank and the Scalloped Hammerhead was an impressive inhabitant of the very full Shark Seas. On the rather disappointing side was the dolphin exhibit, where we got just distant glimpses of a dolphin-like shape. I think a much larger viewing window and area looking into a deeper tank would be a great improvement. Overall though a stunning aquarium, behind only (on the best-aquariums-I-have-visited list) Valencia Oceanarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium, both of which had a greater diversity of exhibit types.

    Photos below show cable cars traveling over Sentosa, Butterfly at the Sentosa Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, some of the many sharks at Shark Seas in S.E.A. Aquarium, and a Nautilus celebrating Christmas.
     

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  4. Zooish

    Zooish Well-Known Member

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    Actually the Maritime museum traces the travels of a famous Chinese explorer called Zheng He. He sailed through the ports of Southeast and South Asia, Middle East and reached East Africa. The big ship in the centre represents his ship and the stuff he brought back to China, including live African animals. The Aquarium exhibits parallel the route seen in the Maritime museum, although recent changes have included a couple of Australian and Caribbean habitats.

    As for the dolphins, the main way to see them is to pay for expensive contact sessions. The window in the Aquarium is just a teaser.
     
  5. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    I didn't get time to look through the maritime museum when I visited the aquarium but it looked really interesting. I didn't realise the aquarium exhibits followed the same route - is this pointed out anywhere, or do you just know it regardless?

    I saw the dolphins well, being really active through the little viewing window, but yes it isn't meant as anything more than a hook.
     
  6. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Have you been to the butterfly house at the airport? This is the only airport that I am aware of with this type of animal exhibit.
     
  7. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Well that sounds much more interesting than I thought it was. I didn't pay much attention to the exhibits, but they looked very artificial and I didn't realise there was an overall story behind it. I didn't look at the signage either, although it was fairly difficult to do so with the very large crowd and we were keen to see the live exhibits. Next time I will have to explore it properly and follow the story. The transportation of giraffes and rhino from Africa to Asia in the 1400s is quite an impressive feat!

    I understand why the dolphins are only minimally shown to the public at the aquarium, but it is not a practice I appreciate or think should become common in zoos. It is also done at River Safari, but I don't think I have seen it elsewhere.
     
  8. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    I visited this on my previous trip to Singapore, and it is a great addition to the airport. I didn't visit this time, as my time at the airport was either in a different terminal with minimal time, or at night when it is shut.
     
  9. Gigit

    Gigit Well-Known Member

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    I had a quick look when I was there in December. It's very nicely done but there were no butterflies visible at about 9.30pm. A minus point was the very loud noise from nearby planes.
     
  10. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Day Three (Part 1)

    Fittingly, Day Three was a three-parter, and this is the first part. We got up fairly early, took a bus to the MRT station, the MRT to Ang Mo Kio station and then got on a bus driven by, quite possibly, the world’s slowest bus driver. Whose sole aim, it seemed, was recreating the feeling of extreme airplane turbulence. After one of the most frustrating hours of my life, we finally arrived at the Singapore Zoo. We were there just after opening, and (with prepaid tickets) headed straight for the centre of the Zoo and the Ah Meng Restaurant, for Breakfast with the Orangutans. This involves a huge buffet, and a platform at the front where a group of Orangutans are fed, while visitors pose in front of them. The food was good, but the overall experience was a little underwhelming.

    We spent the next few hours exploring the rest of the zoo, which has changed relatively little since our previous visit four years earlier. The opening of the Frozen Tundra exhibit was the largest addition, and the visitor’s areas and signage were excellent. While the Polar Bear enclosure is adequate, those for Raccoon Dogs and Wolverine are truly awful and not what you would hope for from Singapore Zoo. Raccoon Dogs are very cute though. The Koala House and Cheetah & African Wild Dog exhibits were the only other totally new exhibit I noticed, although the former has since closed. The overall lack of change is presumably due to WRS’ investment in the River Safari, but this has left some parts of the Zoo (e.g. Fragile Forest, Reptile Garden) looking rather tired and unloved. Unfortunately, the Critters’ Longhouse was under renovation, so many of the exciting small mammals were off-display.

    However, some parts of the Zoo looked great, especially the Primate Kingdom and the Heliconia Gardens. The former was a particular highlight, with almost all species visible, and the enclosures looking superb. I also got a look at the free-ranging Javan Langurs, the family group being both active and beautiful. There were also a heap of wild animals around, including heaps of Long-tailed Macaques that were extremely entertaining, an impressively-endowed Stork-billed Kingfisher, and finally an adorable Colugo! This was the species I had been most looking forward to seeing in Singapore, so I was very happy to see one, clinging to a trunk a few metres above my head.

    After exploring all of the Zoo, we headed out to the food court at the entrance for a late lunch. This area has a lot of gardens, ponds and sculptures, several of which are carved from the trunk of the Changi Tree. This species was thought extinct until one was discovered in September 2002. Despite being quickly declared a National Heritage Tree, it was illegally felled by a developer later that same year, and the species was once again extinct. The sculptures reflect the life of the tree. Fortunately, some seeds were salvaged from the tree, and one of the seedlings from these is growing near the entrance, so the species is once again extant. After pondering this story, we headed next door…

    Photos below show: part of the crowd checking out the stars of the Orangutan breakfast, one member of the free-range Javan Langur group, wild Colugo on a tree trunk, and a sculpture from the trunk of the Changi Tree.
     

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  11. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    well done on the colugo! Now that you've seen pangolin and colugo, there's not much else worth looking for. What's your next one to see?

    Also, were the crab-eating macaques your first wild monkeys? Or did you see them last time you were in Singapore as well?
     
  12. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Ha, still plenty out there to see! Probably the most glaring omissions from my mammals-seen list is the order Soricomorpha, so I'd like to see a shrew and a mole, but that is not likely in the near future. I'm also missing a few marsupial orders, but seeing them is even less likely. I think I'll concentrate on Australian species for now.

    I did see Long-tailed Macaques on my last trip, but only briefly out of a bus window (en route to the Zoo), and those are the only wild (non-human) primates I have ever seen. This was my first chance to observe them properly, although I got plenty more on my trip. :cool:
     
  13. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Day Three (Part Two)

    As most will know, next door to Singapore Zoo is the newest WRS attraction, River Safari. This opened in 2013, and displays wildlife from the world’s freshwater habitats (and a few other places). To me, the idea of a zoological park dedicated to freshwater species is extremely appealing, but many of the reviews of River Safari have been critical. So I was very excited to visit. Essentially, the park is laid out along the two banks of an inlet of the Upper Seletar Reservoir, and a simple loop takes you around the park. The entry area is spacious and modern, with a small corridor taking you past displays on the importance of freshwater ecosystems (these were appreciated by myself as a freshwater ecologist, but did not appear to resonate strongly with other visitors). And then we entered the first section, Rivers of the World.

    This is basically a covered walkway, with exhibits (both animal and cultural) scattered throughout a series of zones representing some of the planet’s major river systems. And I thought it was fantastic! Dominated by massive freshwater aquariums, each with an “anchor tenant”, this area showcased a variety of fish, crocodiles, turtles, amphibians and invertebrates, with birds and mammals making token appearances. Overall, exhibit quality was very high, except a few small herp terraria, and the theming excellent. Glare was a bit of an issue in places, but this was definitely the best “aquarium” I have ever visited. Signage was generally good, although there was not comprehensive species identification for all tanks, however there was a strong emphasis on threats to freshwater species and habitats, and actions to take.

    At the far end of this area was a large indoor exhibit, holding the pair of Giant Pandas, which was surprisingly good. I would prefer that species adapted to cooler environments weren’t kept in the tropics, but these enclosures seemed acceptable. The courtyard outside features a window into the Zoo’s Polar Bear exhibit, which is a clever piece of marketing. A bridge then takes visitors across to the other bank, which is home to a series of South American exhibits. First however, we took a short cruise on a boat around the reservoir, which gave views of Giraffe, White Rhino and Asian Elephant. There was very little in the way of native wildlife around, and we saw just a Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

    The South American exhibits start very promisingly, with a small enclosure for a busy family of Golden-headed Lion Tamarins. But it rapidly heads downhill with the park’s main ride, Amazon River Quest. This is a boat trip past a series of animal exhibits, with no redeeming features. The enclosures are too small, the boat too fast, the commentary unhelpful, the signage useless, and the immersion destroyed by incredibly poor execution of what could have been a world-class exhibit. Leipzig’s Gondwanaland ride is spectacular by comparison. I’m not sure there is a way to make this ride work - I recommend demolishing it.

    The rest of the park is mostly very good, some great exhibits – notably the Squirrel Monkey walkthrough. Jaguarundi are always a pleasant sight. The final exhibit is Flooded Forest, which features an impressive pool for Giant Otters. Viewing these from the underwater tunnel was brilliant! But the small land area was fairly average. The main exhibit here was a massive tank (the largest for freshwater species in the world) holding Manatee and a range of fishes. This was a great enclosure, but it wasn’t the best exhibit – you could see too much of the functional stuff and it became distracting and awkward. The viewing from the top also made no sense. This final exhibit was probably nicely summed up my overall thoughts on River Safari, a great concept, with an excellent species list and some fantastic exhibits, but marred by poor execution in many areas. Still, it was much better than I was expecting, and I really did enjoy it.

    Photos below show: a typical Rivers of the World exhibit with Alligator Gar in the Mississippi River zone, a Giant Freshwater Stingray in the Mekong River zone, a crowd watching the Singapore Zoo Polar Bear, and Giant Otters viewed from the underwater tunnel.
     

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  14. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    there's a commentary on the boat ride now? There wasn't when I was there. What I wrote in my review, regarding the generally-brilliant first part of the park and the god-awful boat ride was "there was a huge and very noticeable difference between the two halves of the park [...] as if they were designed completely independently of one another with no cross-discussion."

    Unfortunately all I saw of the giant otters was the top of a head at the back of the enclosure. I would have liked to have seen them swimming.
     
  15. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Did zooboy see a wild pangolin or are you referencing seeing the pangolin at the zoo?
     
  16. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    no I meant the White-bellied Tree Pangolin at San Diego Zoo which he saw on his last trip. On his European trip he missed seeing Malayan Pangolin at the Singapore Night Safari because the enclosure was being worked on, and I think he did not see the Chinese Pangolin at Leipzig?

    I'm guessing he did see the Malayan Pangolin this time round in Singapore though, fingers crossed.
     
  17. Zooish

    Zooish Well-Known Member

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    Congratulations on seeing the colugo zooboy28! From the photo I presume it was near the chimpanzee/crocodile exhibits?

    Unfortunately the Amazon River Quest isn't going to be bulldozed over any time soon, much to our collective dread. It is just too much of a financial investment to be written off the accounts.
     
  18. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Yeah, there is a commentary, which says something like "if you look to your left you may see the last 3 cm of the Maned Wolf exhibit". It didn't seem well timed to the exhibits, but I guess that was due to random boat speed or something.

    The Giant Otters were great, in and out of the water, very active. Definitely a highlight. I was surprised that there weren't many other aquatic mammals on display (just manatees really). Why did they not include other otter species, or hippos, or water rats or other aquatic rodents (apart from capybara)?
     
  19. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    No, I haven't seen a wild pangolin yet. I could have seen three pangolin species by now, but you'll have to wait for the next installment here to find out if I ever saw the second! :cool:
     
  20. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks for your help in finding the Colugo Zooish, would never have found it otherwise. It was on a tree just past the crocodile exhibit. All the other visitors walking past had no idea what I was looking at, which led to some odd looks...

    I imagine WRS has no plans to dump Amazon River Quest, it seemed very popular so must be worth having (despite being expensive to run).