River Safari

Singapore has four animal parks: the Zoo, the Night Safari, the Bird Park, and the River Safari.  The conceit of the River Safari is that it has displays of fauna from different rivers around the world, so you get a taste of everything from the Mississippi to the Mekong to the Nile to the Amazon.  It has more fish than I expected (though I suppose the word “river” should have given me a heads-up).


Highlights in the giant fish tanks included manatees, freshwater sting rays, and the paddlefish (which has a truly huge mouth).  There are lots of turtles and crocodilians and other things that live in and around rivers.  I had my first chance to see a mudskipper up close in the tiny Singapore rivers display:


I especially enjoyed the squirrel monkey house, where tiny monkeys skitter overhead and maras and agoutis (both large, extra-cute rodents) wander freely at your feet. Even in the rain, it’s just amazing to walk around with no glass or fences or moats between you and the animals.  Less impressive was the Amazon River Cruise.


For this experience, you pay extra to get into a “boat” of the variety usually found at amusement parks (it’s on rails).  The boat takes you too quickly past about twelve different animal displays — but it’s moving so fast that you can hardly see them, and the ride ends in under five minutes.  Definitely a disappointment.

But that was more than made up for by the fact that I got to pet a prairie dog!!!  A volunteer walked up with it just as I happened by, and I nearly started crying with excitement (seriously — when does anyone get to do something like that?).  This raised a number of questions, of course, like, “why does the River Safari let people pet a wild animal?” and “why does the River Safari have a prairie dog, when there’s no prairie dog display and prairie dogs don’t live near rivers?”  In my enthusiasm, I let these questions slide and just thanked the volunteer more effusively than she probably expected from someone in the over-twelve set.

The main attraction of the River Safari for most people is its giant panda display.  Kai Kai and Jia Jia are on a ten-year loan from China as part of China’s panda diplomacy program (the gist of which seems to be, “if we lend you pandas, we expect you to be nice to us”).


These pandas are in the Yangtze River section, though I don’t think that pandas are really river-dwelling creatures (I think that China offered Singapore some pandas, and Singapore installed them in the River Safari because they needed to find a way to increase attendance there).  Singapore takes good care of these pandas: they grow four special species of bamboo just for these guys, and they’ve built them a giant climate-controlled enclosure complete with a waterfall and a painting of mountains in the background.


I was even more excited about the red panda display right next door, because you can get about four feet away from this guy as he strolls overhead:


I found flowers, of course, and these very cool seed pods:


When I finished my time at the River Safari, it was pouring rain.  Figuring that I might not be able to get an Uber at that point, I headed for the Zoo, which is right next door (always organized, Singapore does its best to keep all of its animals in one place).  Both the River Safari and the Zoo sits on the Upper Selatar Reservoir, which is really beautiful even just as the rain is starting.


The Zoo has a new “Zoo-rassic” display of animatronic dinosaurs, which I found both interesting and odd:


The idea is to let people encounter dinosaurs in the “wild” as we might have found them millions of years ago.IMG_1198

I spent most of my time looking at the river otters (watching them swim is remarkable), the orangutans, and the monkeys.  There’s also a huge hamadryas baboon tribe that’s worth a long visit all on it’s own — you can watch them grooming, climbing rocks, romping, and, yes, engaging in sexual activity (not pictured here for all sorts of reasons).


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