Singapore Zoo – an enriching sleep-with-the-beasts staycation in a rainforest zoo

Nestled within the lush Mandai rainforest stretching into the Upper Seletar Reservoir in the northern part of Singapore, is a 26-hectare wildlife park known as the Singapore Zoo.  More than 2,800 animals call Singapore Zoo home.  The award-winning park is well-known for its walk-through exhibits, allowing visitors the chance for intimate encounters with the animals.  It is also a learning Zoo, where visitors understand more about the animals through interactive educational displays, as well as take part in public educational programmes such as Behind-the-Scenes tours, Sleep With the Beast and Zoo Explorer Camp.  Earlier this month, I was lucky to have won a 2 Days 1 Night “Sleep With the Beasts” experience with my family (prize is the camp fee for 2 adults & 2 children amounting $630+) via SPH radio.  Hence I will be sharing more about this free & unique sleep-with-the-beasts staycation below. 🙂

This 2D1N camp is typically organised during the June and December school holidays, as it targets families with children aged 5 & above.  The camp we participated in was a special Koala edition during the September school holidays.  The 210 sq m koala enclosure in the zoo – Koalamania, has been open to the public since 23 May 2015 as Australia had loaned the furry quartet to Singapore to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations this year.  What a lovely edition to the zoo & our camp!  Ever since I received information about the camp programme, I was so looking forward to meeting the koalas! 😉

Singapore Zoo, long time no see!

Singapore Zoo, long time no see!

Zoo-mazing Race

The camp started on Saturday around 1pm with a short welcome briefing and kicked off with a child-friendly Zoo-mazing Race.  There were 8 families participating in this camp, so we were split into 4 groups to complete the race in the fastest time possible.  We were given rules on the next animal exhibit to head to, and at each station, there would be a station master to assign a task to the group (e.g. solve the jigsaw puzzle) and the time to complete the task successfully would be recorded down, before we were given a new rule.  I shan’t disclose too much of the rules or animal exhibits involved in the race, in case I spoil the fun should you decide to sign up for the camp in future.  But trust me, it was a fun yet educational experience, for both old & young, as we get to learn more interesting facts about the animals!  Don’t forget to bring along a portable fan & lots of water because I’m sure you would perspire a lot & get thirsty like we did, given we are in hot & humid Singapore. 😉

The 1st clue of the race led us to the King of the Asian Jungle! See a pic of our completed Tiger puzzle in about 5min :P

The 1st clue of the race led us to the King of the Asian Jungle! See a pic of our completed Tiger puzzle within about 5min 😛

Behind-the-Scenes Tour: Spineless Wonders

Next on the programme was Behind-the-Scenes Tour: Spineless Wonders.  In case you are wondering, spineless wonders refer to butterflies, scorpions, stick insects, and other invertebrates at the Fragile Forest exhibit.  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in all “Behind-the-Scenes” tour as this is the place where injured animals are cared for in the zoo.  Here, it was the first (& probably my last too, lol) time that I have ever touched such a huge cockroach, or to be precise, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach!  The cockroach body, at least 2 inches long, felt like human fingernails.  Our group facilitator confessed to us that cockroaches are her greatest fear but due to job requirements, she has to bring the spineless wonder out almost every week to show visitors, & up till today, she still shivers when attempting to bring the cockroach out for visitors to touch it.  We all witnessed her shivering terribly & attempting several times before the cockroach lied safely in her hand.  So she challenged everyone to touch & feel the cockroach since “if I can do it, so can you!”.  Besides “conquering” the wingless spineless wonder, we also ventured into the butterfly enclosure where we had real intimate encounters (by that I meant them landing on different parts of our bodies & clothing, & they were particularly attracted to bright colors!) with the beautiful butterflies & learned more about its life cycle and short life span.  What an interesting yet nerve-racking activity we had! 😛

Tour of Australian Zone

There was a short tea break with fruit juices & biscuits to cool us down hehe.  After which, it was time to tour the Australian Zone!  Thanks to SG50 & our diplomatic ties with Australia, the Australian government had kindly loaned us 4 adorable Koalas (Chan, Idalia, Pellita and Paddle), with agile wallabies & kangaroos for the 6-month exhibit (till end 2015).  So visitors no longer need to travel all the way to Down Under to experience Australian wilderness.  The wallabies & kangaroos were hopping around freely as we entered the walk-through area to get to the Koalas’ indoor exhibit.  As Koalas spend most of their time on trees either sleeping (18-22 hours a day) or eating eucalypt leaves, I don’t remember ever seeing Koalas moving about at all when I visited Down Under twice.  That was a memorable day where we saw the Koalas from Northern Australia actively moving around, as it was feeding time at around 4pm. 😀

Spot the Koala climbing tree, walking about & eating ;)

Spot the Koala climbing tree, walking about & eating 😉

Feeding the Hamadryas Baboons

From Australia, we were transported to the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia, East Africa to feed the Hamadryas Baboons.  The Hamadryas baboon exhibit features a colony of more than 90 baboons with different clans comprising of the territorial male, up to 10 females as well as little baboons.  An interesting fact that we learnt here was that a female Hamadryas baboon is capeless and brown, with very pronounced genital swelling to announce her fertile state to a fellow male who has silver-white fur, with a pronounced mane developed around the age of 10.  It was amusing to see so many baboons rushing out to be near the waters as they spotted the zookeeper holding the pail of bananas approaching the exhibit’s bridge.  Everyone was given 2 small bananas to feed (or rather throw) the baboons.  The moment we threw the bananas out to them, the fruits were gone almost instantly, & we could see the dominant males (presumably from different clans) fighting over the remnants of the fruits.

All the bananas we fed were gone within a flash that it was hard to take pic of them in action! :P

All the bananas we fed were gone within a flash, making it very hard to take pic of them in action! Can you spot the female in my collage above? 😛

Buffet Dinner @Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant

After pitching our tents by the lake under the hot sun, finally we could wind down, relax & enjoy a sumptuous buffet dinner at Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant at Night Safari.  The rustic wooden-furnished restaurant isn’t air-conditioned, but is well-ventilated with big ceiling fans.  Just outside the restaurant is a herd of Ankole cattle roaming about, grazing on the grass.  Almost all the dishes were to my liking, such as satay, various cuts of meat, the fluffy cakes & yummy desserts.  Sushi was always snapped up within minutes from the time the waiter served them at the buffet table, though I found the rice a tad tough.  If you would like to try out the buffet before you visit Night Safari next time, do remember to book as it seems quite popular.

Ulu Ulu Restaurant

A sample of the buffet spread + the Ankole cattle

A sample of the buffet spread + the Ankole cattle

Night Safari Tour + Campfire

Soon, it was time to visit the Night Safari, an attraction that I visited long ago, when it was just opened, so this was like a brand new attraction to me. 😛 The popular 20-min Creatures of the Night show, only available on Friday, Saturday & eve of Public Holidays was quite an entertaining performance with a lively & talented host, bringing together some of the specially-trained nocturnal animals – otter, binturong & civet.

Creatures of the Night Show

After this, we took the 40-min tram tour to ride through 7 geographical zones of the world such as Himalayan Foothills, Indian Subcontinent, Burmese Hillside etc to observe the nocturnal animals at night.  Too bad my camera wasn’t good enough to capture nice photos in the dark on the move. 😦

For a camp programme to be comprehensive, surely we need a campfire? 😉 So a campfire was set up near our tents after the Night Safari tour.  Led by the young camp facilitators, we played child-friendly games, sang & danced throughout the 1-hour.  By then, I was so tired that I barely knew what I was really doing, but amazed by how energetic the kids were even after a long day haha.  Glad that I survived through & finally had a chance to shower & cleaned ourselves up before retreating to our super-hot tents for some rest.

 Rise & Shine to a Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife

After an almost-sleepless & not so comfortable night in our supposedly 6-men tent, we woke up for a morning stroll around the zoo & the first highlight of the day – Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife at Ah Meng Restaurant!  Our camp facilitator advised us to enter the restaurant with an empty stomach, for this meal will be more sumptuous than last night’s dinner at Night Safari.  We had to agree that she was right haha.

Sumptuous breakfast in the "jungle" ;)

Sumptuous breakfast in the “jungle” 😉

The excitement kicked in around 9.30am when animals were brought into the restaurant – snake & of course the famous orangutans!  Everyone, young & old, went ga-ga as the orangutans appeared from the tree tops, & we joined the queue too to take photographs with the descendants of our animal icon, the late orangutan “Ah Meng”.

Feeding the orangutans with rambutans & sugarcane so that they'd stay there for photo-taking

Feeding the orangutans with rambutans & sugarcane so that they’d stay there for photo-taking

Tour of Wild Africa + Feeding the Giraffes

We fed the baboons from Ethiopia yesterday, so it was time to go to Africa to feed the giraffes after our sumptuous breakfast. 😉 Learnt something new again from this activity.  Other than the well-known fact that giraffes are the tallest animal in the world with super-long necks, we also learnt that they have the longest tongue in the world, stretching up to 53cm!  Furthermore, their tongues are actually bluish-black in colour, & their saliva are thick so as to protect them from their diet of spiked plants.  See if you can spot its tongue colour in my photo below!  Probably because the giraffes are sick of “entertaining” curious eager visitors like us who feed them thrice a day, the female giraffe didn’t even bother to come near to the feeding area.  Only the male giraffe looked so eager as the zoo staff arrived with a big pail of carrots. 😛

Just to share a note I learnt from the camp facilitator, there is a reason why giraffes are housed just across from where the lions are.  This is because giraffes are 1 of the preys of lions in the wild, so whenever the wind blows & the smell of the giraffes get to them, it will somehow keep these captivated lions aroused & “remind” them of their natural instincts.

Feeding Giraffe Time

The Giraffe licking the salt block to get its sodium nutrients (bottom left pic); feeding on spiked plants out of token feeding times (bottom right pic)

Behind the Scenes Tour: Encounter of the Scaly Kind

This Behind the Scenes Tour: Encounter of the Scaly Kind was the last programme before the end of the 2D1N camp.  Again no photography was allowed here, where we got to know more about the scaly reptilians such as snakes, crocodiles, Komodo dragons, tortoises & turtles.  We were given the opportunity to feel & touch live & preserved snake, as well as got really up close a big egg that was just hatched that morning (forgot which reptile’s egg it was haha).

The camp ended around noon-time & we were told that we could get free passes to continue to roam in the zoo.  But alas, only 1 family still had the energy to do so while the rest of us were too shack to want to take advantage of this free pass. 😛

Nonetheless, I must say this is a very good & fun educational camp to participate in, as long as you do not hate animals!  It is especially suitable for families with young children.  Why not try registering for this 2D1N Sleep With The Beasts Camp at Singapore Zoo to replace your usual staycation in luxury/ posh hotels in town?  I’m sure it’ll be a memorable staycation for the whole family for quite a while. 🙂

This was written in September 2015 after participating in the camp during the Sep'15 school holidays.

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