Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 14, 2008 - Singapore

During my doctor's appointment the other day, she asked me "aren't you afraid of tigers?" This struck me as such a funny question (usually people ask us about pirates), but I've since learned that it wasn't so long ago that tigers roamed around Singapore. And after seeing today's Straits Times headlines, I can understand her concern.

We were walking through a MRT station on our way to the Singapore Zoo, when Sten spotted the headline "Cleaner killed by zoo tigers" and the accompanying photo of a man, cowering with a bucket on his head, getting mauled by tigers. The Singapore Zoo is an open concept zoo, so rather than keeping animals in cages, they are separated from the visitors by moats, or other unobtrusive devices. The article suggested that the keepers death was a suicide, as it described how he jumped a low wall, landed in the moat, walked up to the animals, and began antagonizing them.

Our first grizzly thought was "damn, we're a day late," then we wondered whether the zoo was closed. We bought the paper to confirm that the zoo was open and to find out what happened. After reading the article, it sounds like the cleaner committed suicide by tiger. We feel for the cleaner, who clearly wasn't getting the mental help he needed, but it was rather selfish of him to put the tigers at risk. If the keepers had arrived with their guns in time to rescue him, the tigers would have likely been shot, and all for nothing. As we were told by a representative of Singapore at the Sail Indonesia Rally Information Day back in Darwin, "in Singapore, suicide is a criminal offense. If you can't finish the job, we'll do it for you." Some of the laws here are draconian, but the result is a very productive society and efficient economy. Anyhow, this tragedy cast a bit of a pall over our visit to the Singapore Zoo.

We got to the zoo to discover that the white tiger exhibit was closed, but the rest of the zoo was open, despite the torrential rains. We bought a pair of lime green ponchos and headed out into the downpour to check out the animals. The zoo's collection included some bizarre species, the likes of which we had never seen before, and some old favorites. The black panthers, lazily grooming themselves after a feed, reminded us of our kitty, Lenore.

We didn't make it to Borneo to check out the orangutangs, so we were looking forward to seeing them at the zoo. The zoo houses not only Bornean orangutangs, which are endangered, but also Sumatran, which are critically endangered, due to habitat loss. It was very cool to see the different species hanging out together, grooming and feeding each other. All the orangutangs had such expressive faces. Their different personalities were so apparent. Orangutangs share 90% of the DNA of humans and their behaviors and expressions were hauntingly familiar.

When the zoo closed at 6 o'clock, we took our soggy selves over to the Night Safari. After a feed on some truly terrible burgers, we watched a fascinating display of Bornean tribal dancing. The agility and strength of the guys was amazing. And who doesn't enjoy seeing men spitting fire?

At 7:30 the park opened, and we headed in. We skipped the tram ride, choosing instead to walk. We also did the trail backwards, so as to have part of it to ourselves for a while. After crossing a suspension bridge, we climbed a hill to the Malaysian Tiger display, where a huge tiger sat watching us as we approached. We spent five minutes there, alone with him in the dark. As we moved around behind the glass partition, his intelligent eyes followed us around. It was a really special thing to see such a magnificent creature, in a setting that is somewhat similar to his natural habitat. The darkness of the night only enhanced the feeling that we'd stumbled across him in a jungle clearing. But then his ears twitched and a moment later another couple arrived at his window (he'd heard them coming well before we did) and it was time for us to move on.

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