Wikipedia assures me that the term “fauna of Asia” is “somewhat elusive,” because there is no polite physical boundary between Europe and Asia such that we can distinguish Asian animals from European ones. So my attempts to find out how many species of animal exist in Asia have been fairly frustrating (the best answer I have so far is “many”). In any case, if you want a guarantee of seeing a good number of them in Singapore, one of the best places to head is the Singapore Zoo.
There are plenty of creatures that are more beautiful and grand, but the primates get my vote for the most interesting animals at the zoo. The pair above are endangered buff-cheeked gibbons, native to Cambodia and Vietnam — and there’s nothing like watching them entertain themselves:
The zoo also has a troop of Celebes crested macaques, critically endangered monkeys that live only on the very northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The females are notable (and therefore easily hunted) for the redness of their buttocks, which indicates a readiness to mate.
A smaller enclosure holds a handful of proboscis monkeys, endemic to the island of Borneo and currently endangered. The males of the species are known for their giant, bulbous noses; the females, on the other hand, have pointy noses that make them look somewhat shrewish.
The Singapore Zoo also has a large collection of orangutans from Indonesia (“orangutan” means “man of the forest” in Indonesian). There are only two species of this ape in the world, one that lives alongside the proboscis monkeys on the island of Borneo …
… and another, this one critically endangered, found only on the island of Sumatra:
A small romp of otters also lives on and around the Bornean orangutan island:
The Asian small-clawed otter, native to Sinagpore and other places in Southeast Asia, is the smallest (though probably not the quietest) member of the otter family.
Also native to Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula are the Malayan flying fox (the world’s largest bat)…
… the tiny mouse deer …
… and even tinier bats (this guy, probably a lesser dog-faced fruit bat, wasn’t part of the exhibit; it was just hanging out in the rafters overhead as I walked beneath a canopy):
For those who prefer their animals with a bit more majesty, the zoo has a pair of white Bengal tigers.
There are no known white tigers in the wild, by the way; these two are descended from one ancestor who was captured and kept by an Indian Maharajah in the 1950s.
On the large animal side, the zoo also has a herd of female Asian elephants.
I caught them at feeding time (the meal seemed to be a combination of leaves and carrots) and was amazed at the range of their trunks!
Less active was this gharial, a critically endangered fish-eating freshwater crocodile from India with 110 teeth (none of which was I able to see).
Much smaller in the reptile class are the zoo’s many turtles, including these Vietnamese pond turtles.
Poached for food for centuries, these turtles were thought to be extinct for 65 years; then a small group was found in 2006, and zoos have been working on conserving and reproducing them ever since. And while I’m not really a turtle person, I did find myself staring at the Roti Island snake-head turtle. Critically endangered, this unusually long-necked turtle is found only on one tiny southern Indonesian island.
The zoo is also home to an impressive flock of great white pelicans.
Native to a small section of India and Pakistan, huge swaths of Africa, and a smattering of other locations, this is one of the largest pelicans around. And it’s beautiful in a very inelegant sort of way.
The zoo has many other Asian animals, including raccoon dogs, reticulated pythons, whip snakes, red-shanked douc langurs, and sun bears (the list would get very long if I listed all of the reptiles I’ve missed). There are plenty of non-Asian animals, too, from giraffes and rhinos to rabbits and and hedgehogs. I’m adding a couple of Central and South American creatures here just because I think they’re wonderful — but it was interesting to focus primarily on a single continent during this visit.
And if you get tired of the animals, the zoo also has orchids and other tropical plants galore!
Of course, Singapore also offers plenty of places to see Asian animals out in the wild. Last week we found a good number while out on a hike to the old quarry at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
That’s a long-tailed macaque, and it’s anything but endangered here in Singapore. Some people think that they’re pests — they have a habit of stealing food from hikers and picnickers — but I think they’re incredibly fun to watch.
Once at the quarry …
… we saw a turtle …
… large schools of fish (I suspect that multiple visitors have been ignoring the “please don’t feed the fish” signs) …
… and koi that someone must have dumped illegally into the lake.
We also found this cat in a box — I don’t know how wild it might be, but it is an animal of Asia!