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June 30, 2011

It’s a wild, wild world

By EDMUND NGO (The Star)

ENTERING the Taiping Zoo makes one feel like they have stepped into a different world — surrounded by lush tropical rainforest that is accompanied by a plethora of animal sounds.

This is the surreal experience visitors get at the iconic site located in the quaint town of Taiping. The zoo has been operating for more than 50 years.

Tigers at Taiping Zoo
Protected species:
Tigers drinking water from the stream in their enclosure.

With nearly 200 species of animals, the zoo attracts some 700,000 visitors yearly - both locals and foreigners. The charm lies in its enclosures and variety of inhabitants.

Taiping Zoo and Night Safari director Dr Kevin Lazarus said the enclosures were an “open concept” designed for visitors to view the animals in their most natural environment.

“This is a very different atmosphere as compared to putting all animals in cages. Here, visitors can see the animal interacting with its own species and even other species,” he said.

The effect is clearly visible when visitors stand in front of the tiger enclosure, feeling awe and fear listening to the beast’s roar and admiring its stately figure as it moves about in its habitat.

Undergraduate E. Vimal, 22, said the enclosures made visitors feel closer to nature, leaving them with a one-of-a-kind experience.

“You would be transfixed watching the animals from a safe distance yet still able to feel their roars and presence,” he said.

He said that one of his favourite animals was the Malayan Sun Bear, or honey bear, which would use sticks or its long tongue to draw honey out of cracks in between wood provided by the zookeepers.

Visitors are transported into a different realm when they enter two separate large dome enclosures, which house the milky stork and the scarlet ibis, as they push aside the metal gates to observe the birds building their nests or flying freely about.

Another crowd-puller are the estuarine crocodiles placed in one of the zoo’s newly designed enclosures where the reptiles can swim in the river. During feeding time, visitors can observe crocodiles moving slowly towards their food and jumping up to snap it within seconds.

Successful breeding programmes for animals such as elephants, the gaur (seladang), tigers and gibbons have also enhanced the zoo’s appeal and reputation for attentiveness and quality of care for the animals.

 blue-and-yellow Macaw at Taiping
Pretty birds in a row: Three blue-and-yellow macaw perching on a branch.

With the sun setting on the hills of Bukit Larut, lights in the shape of balls will light up to pierce the engulfing darkness, presenting another charming appeal of the zoo - its famous Night Safari. The first in the country, the safari started its operations eight years ago and became an instant hit as visitors could observe the nocturnal animals active at night.

Walking through the zoo in the dark, one can see the agile leopards and the playful otter running around in their enclosures while the jet-black panther growls menacingly. Currently, the zoo is undergoing renovation to improve its facilities.

Dr Lazarus said work was expected to be completed by year end.

“Among the facilities to be put in place are interactive and information signage on the animals, in addition to covered walkways to shelter visitors during bad weather. As we all know, Taiping is one of the wettest places in the country,” he said.

He said cottage industries and other tourist destinations in Taiping would be highlighted in a gallery that was under construction.

He said the gallery would be a one-stop tourist information centre, giving tourists more reasons to visit Taiping.

“We want the public to do more in Taiping than just stop by at the zoo, as there are many attractions like Kuala Sepetang charcoal factory and the Kampung Dew fireflies,” he added.

Located near the Taiping Lake Gardens, the zoo is open from 8am to 11pm every day while the Night Safari is from 8pm to 11pm daily. Tram rides are available free of charge.

Dr Lazarus said students and youths could opt for the educational packages which included orienteering and fun activities to educate and expose them to the animal kingdom.

For details, contact 05-808 6577 or visit at www.zootaiping.gov.my