Saturday, 11 April 2015

River Safari Singapore

Ada's brother visited us for the 4th time. Where else could we take him? After some thoughts, why not take him to River Safari. Since we haven't been there, it's 2 birds with one stone (or some birds with one ticket).

Pelanga Tuaian duck, River Safari, Singapore
Jelapang Tuaian duck. They feed on weeds and insects, thus control this undesirable population.
This pest control looks far more cuter than a bottle of insecticide, and its friendly to the environment,
and probably great with salt and pepper sauce.

Without any question, the giant panda couple (Jia Jia and Kai Kai) are the stars of this park.  Naturally, I wonder how long does it take to queue up to see the celebrities. The advice I heard was go there early because you may have to queue up as long as an hour. I never lined up an hour to see a Hollywood star, but for a couple of Chinese imported bears, why not?

Panda standing up, River Safari, Singapore Panda walking, River Safari, Singapore

With that advice, we went there early and headed straight for the 2 heavyset couple (who says vegetarian diet is slimming?) as soon as we entered the park. When we got to them, there were only a scattering of spectators. Were we too early? Am I ever too early for anything? Not a chance. Since the over-sized black and white bears are located at the opposite end of the entrance, because we went there first, bypassing all other exhibits, in order to see everything else in the park, we would have to revisit them again as we made our way around the park.

Park map, River Safari, Singapore
Entrance is at the bottom of the map
(Click to enlarge)

We weren't early at all (which was to be expected. I was never an early bird, only a late owl). We were there before noon. When we re-visited the 2 logos of the World Wildlife Fund an hour later, there were still no crowd. Of course, if we knew that we didn't need to queue up to see the 2 endangered species from China, we would start our tour at the entrance and made a circular loop, and avoided the need for retracing the steps (or as they say in the show biz, double take).

It was a Saturday, so we can't say the children are all in schools (actually kids wasn't the majority, which is odd because I always thought that Panda Fever (or Beatlemania) tends to afflict the young because of their immature immunity. Another medical myth busted).

I guess when these loan cubs (not lone cub) from China first met the Singapore public in 2014 (soft opening in 2013), we could expect Pandamonium swept Singapore the way Beatlemania swept USA and UK in the 1960s.

Beatles fans in the 1960s.
Weren't our mothers and grandmas a bit crazy? And they complain about our tats.

Would the Beatles still receive that kind of hysteria if they go to America today (with or without John Lennon)? I doubt it. After more than a year of public appearance, I guess Singaporeans were cured of Panda Fever. It's cured by a single visit to the chubby couple cuties (if pain persists, consult your family doctor).

I think by now, there's no panda eager-beaver left in Singapore who still hadn't met these cuddly Sichuan natives (except those live in caves. Are there caves in Singapore? Probably not. So nobody left).

Of course, it's just possible that April is a low season (Dec to Feb seems to be peak season).

Panda eating bamboo, River Safari, Singapore
Let me lay back, and enjoy some grass...peace, man !

Panda eating bamboo, River Safari, Singapore
What a panda does best: eats, shoots and leaves.
ok, pandas don't do much shooting, the visitors do it to them.
Panda, River Safari, Singapore

No, I can't tell Kai Kai apart from Jai Jai. All pandas look alike to me, and they didn't wear any name tags.

Panda, River Safari, Singapore
Panda, River Safari, Singapore
From the brown patch on its hind, you can tell what it does the most

The low crowd is a gospel (aka good news) for tourists from Singaporean neigbours who are struck down by a case of acute Panda Fever and in desperate need to make a pilgrimage to Singapore to get a cure. Come, no waiting, get your instant cure.

Logo, Mama Panda Kitchen, River Safari, Singapore

If visiting these adorable residents from Wolong National Nature Reserve isn't strong enough to cure your acute incurable Panda Fever, try alternative remedy like the taking of Panda buns, which is best taken before meals on empty stomach and with Chinese tea, or cappuccino with chocolate sprinkling of a panda.

No doctor scribbled prescription is needed. No contraindication, as far as I'm aware. No problem (or as the Yanks would say "no prahblem".

Panda bun, River Safari, Singapore
Panda bun with a choice of 2 filling
Cappuccino in Mama Panda Kitchen, River Safari, Singapore
Chinese Cappuccino ?

These remedies are dispensed at Mama Panda Kitchen right next door to the compound where the gorgeous Chinese Diplomats couple lives. I think you can get these remedy at the entrance as well, if I'm not mistaken. Consult your zoo staff if in doubt.

Mama Panda Kitchen, River Safari, Singapore

As they're natives of Sichuan, which is far cooler than Singapore. Air-conditioned was setup to keep them (and us) as cool as cucumbers (the downside for the indoor air-conditioned compound - relatively to outdoor enclosure - would be expectantly smaller. Crowd is built up quickly). In fact, on the left side of the park (see park map above), most of exhibits are aquariums. And so they're all shaded. This is perfect for Ada as she finds sun and heat really sucks (maybe she's vampire bat).

And it isn't just shielding from sun and heat where the covered walkway is a good idea. After we took the cruise and the Amazon River Quest trip. This happened.

Entrance, River Safari, Singapore
At the entrance area @ 1pm

It was quite sunny when we left Commonwealth/Holland Village/Bouna Vista area. It was still sunny when got to the River Safari. Some times later, it came down in bucket load, and lasted for more than an hour.

We took the opportunity to do lunch (no more panda buns. Taken no more than 2 a day). It was still pouring after lunch. The covered walkway of the left side of the park where aquarium exhibits and panda live were all in cover. This allowed us to continue the tour of the park without being drenched (the visitors to the Singapore Zoo next door would have to stay in the shelter for more than an hour).

When we got home, there was not a hint that Commonwealth/Holland Village/Bouna Vista area had  had a single drop of rain.

Red Panda, River Safari, Singapore

Sharing with the panda bear in the comfort of 3.5 stars air-conditioned accommodation was the red panda. Sometimes called the lesser panda for obvious reason. And it's isn't just a neighbour to the giant panda in Singapore, it also neighbours to the panda back in China, where both of these Chinese ambassadors live in the same area in south-west China.

It's just slightly larger than a house cat, and is closer to a weasel or raccoon than cat or bear.

In Kung Fu Panda, this red panda is the lead character panda's master shifu ("master" is redundant). This probably makes sense because some linguist believes that the name "panda" originally referred to the red panda, and people mistakenly thought the 2 species were related.

The 1st time I saw this red panda was in Sydney's Taronga Zoo back in 1990s. But the Sydney's red panda was far more shy, and taking photo of it was almost impossible. This one is far less camera shy. Perhaps because there was no physical barrier between it and the visitors, and so it had got used to all the attention. The one in Sydney was actually in a cage (at the time when I visited).

Red Panda, River Safari, Singapore

Except for the giant pandas and red pandas, the left half of the park is pretty much a typical aquarium that based on river theme.

The safari concept were realised in the most (not entirely) right side of the park. This makes Singapore the only country in Asia to have a safari zoo. I talked about the idea of a safari zoo in some depth in Singapore Zoo, So I won't go into it in length here except for the basic idea.

The idea of a safari zoo is that the visitors go into the (man-made) habitats of animals instead of viewing animals from a distance outside a cage as seen in traditional zoos. The visitors are getting as close to the animal as possible without any barrier, given an impression that the visitors are in a natural environment, their habitat. In other words, you're inside their cages.

Red Panda, River Safari, Singapore
Climbing on a tree branch that's over our heads

The enclosure for red panda is applying this safari concept as there're no physical barrier between the visitors and the red pandas. We can actually view the red panda walk on a tree branch above our heads, given an impression of intimate and natural viewing experience.

This is possible as I said that red pandas are very shy. The fact that it comes so close at all is already quite remarkable. We don't need to worry they're going to maul us any time soon. In other words, you can't apply this idea to all animals. Or can you?

Another good example of this safari concept being realised is the squirrel monkey enclosure. Once you're inside, you're in their territory, their habitat, their cage. You would be surrounded by them monkeys, climbing and leaping on tree branches. You can get very close and personal.

Squirrel monkey, River Safari, Singapore
Squirrel monkey with an itchy back, easing its itch by rubbing its back against a tree branch

Squirrel Monkey, River Safari, Singapore
Squirrel Monkey, River Safari, Singapore
this squirrel monkey eating on a signpost, we can view it at eye-level, at close range

These monkeys are used to human presence, and they go about their business without any concern with our staring.

The centre piece of River Safari is the Amazon River Quest. We cruised down a water channel (man-made river) that cut across the various habitats of different animals that dwell on both banks of the river.

Amazon River Quest, River Safari, Singapore
Amazon River Quest's water channel and boat

River Safari, Singapore Leopard, River Safari, Singapore

This River Quest concept looks good on paper, but doesn't pan out well in its implementation.

Firstly, visitors are depending on their luck if the animals decide to show up their faces. If they decide to hide, we won't see anything. In our trip, I spotted 2 animals show in above photos out of some dozens of animals that dwell there.

I was quite surprise to see a leopard. Remember the safari concept is that there's no barrier between us and the animals (unless you call the 1 m moat a barrier). This spotted cat was either highly sedated, or more likely, a very old cat that are very well fed (on quantitative easing).

Secondly, there's no boat speed that can possibly satisfy everyone. The boat moved about 8 km/h in the water channel, which is far too slow to be thrilling for the kids. It certainly tries to thrill us by having bends to create some water splashes.

If the boat moves at a far higher thrilling speed of, say 30 km/hr, we wouldn't able to see anything. Even at current speed of about 8 km/hr, I missed the animals when I blinked. To really able to make out the animals in their habitats, the boat needs to move at a strolling speed of 1.5 km/hr. But this speed would not only frustrate the kids, more importantly, the wait for the queue to get onto the boat would be unreasonably long (although it wouldn't be a problem today).

A tourist kid behind me yelled out in frustration at the end of the trip, "This really sucks!"

I agree. The only way I can see to solve this problem is to get rid of the river. Pave it up, and let the visitors walk through it. Maybe the management has to change their name of this park, which this river safari gets its name. Maybe not. The river theme on the left side of the park still valid, and there're safari concept being implemented within the various exhibits in the park.

That's what happens when you're doing something new. You need to find out what works, and what doesn't. And needs to change it ruthlessly to keep the customers coming. No, can't just rely on the star powers of the furry Chinese good-will ambassadors to Singapore. (When - if - the pair of bamboo dieters give birth to a cub, there will be a bigger baby pandamonium. The only thing more adorable than the giant panda is a giant baby panda. That's no easy task; they aren't rabbits).

Of course, I'm far too critical (but less so than kids, who are the zoo's most important customers), it's quite worthwhile to visit here if you have never been to a safari zoo or seen a real-life panda before (I'm sure you've seen photos or videos of panda). And at this stage, safari zoos is still a rare breed (on an endangered species list). If you just love to visit zoo in general, you must visit this place.

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