I can't remember the last time I went to Manila Zoo, but I remember clearly being horrified at the sad state of affairs over there. Many of the once-proud animals looked half-dead, and those that still had enough energy in them paced in their grim enclosures with an almost crazed look in their eyes, fearful I'm sure of suffering the same fate as their fellow zoo mates. It broke my heart. (The zoo has since gone through a major overhaul thanks to the Friends of Manila Zoo.)
I could no longer bring myself to own anything that was to be confined like birds, hamsters and rabbits. I even drained and sold the 20 gallon fish tank I owned. As much as I loved having all these pets in my home, I couldn't bring myself to sleep well at night knowing I was keeping them from roaming freely in their natural habitat.
Joey, no relation to our friend over at 80 breakfasts ;)
But don't get me wrong, I have nothing against zoos as most are established and maintained to promote education and research and play an important role in the conservation of endangered wildlife and where I like to believe they treat their inhabitants humanely. Today, we have a number of such zoos around the city like Malabon Zoo, where I stroked the fur of my first tiger, had a snake draped around my neck, and carried and cuddled the cutest baby powder-smelling and diaper-wearing baby orangutan.
In 2003, another such place opened it's doors to the public in Montalban (now Rodriguez), Rizal, the Avilon Zoo. The zoo is the brainchild of Jake Gaw who was forced to find a new home for his growing pet collection after neighbors started to complain. I heard only good things about it so I was excited to check it out for myself with my friends and their kids last Saturday.
After making a couple of wrong turns (and laughing insanely at the comical directions we printed off the net), we arrived at the zoo at 12:30, two hours after we left Parañaque. We had a quick lunch of homemade tuna sandwiches, hotdogs and corn (you can bring your own food) in the pavillion, surrounded by a lily-covered moat, we began our exploration. We were a little lost at first as there are no directional signs or marked trails within this 8 hectare nature reserve.
Barely halfway through the grounds, I regretted not hiring a tour guide. Most of the animals cages/dens were not labeled. It was only because I asked a lady from the group with a tour guide that I knew the rhinoceros-like mammal with the funny snout was a Malayan tapir. I was very impressed with the wide range of exotic animals and those endemic to the Philippines. I didn't expect to see kangaroos, hyenas and flamingoes. Until now I didn't know about the Brazilian arapaima, the world's largest freshwater fish, which you can feed chicken heads for a small fee.
One of my favorite residents - the sun bear. Isn't he just so cute?
The zoo's commitment to maintenance and sanitation is apparent in it's surroundings and inside the animal's homes which are simulations of their natural habitat. There are sections dedicated to nocturnal animals such as armadillos and primates where you are prohibited from taking pictures even without the flash. Though the zoo was busy with groups of school children and families, it was big enough that it hardly seemed crowded at all. P50 / $1 would buy you an opportunity to have your picture taken with an owl on your shoulder, a snake on your lap or draped around your neck, or astride a miniature horse.
sweet Visayan spotted deer
I would strongly recommend hiring a tour guide, not only to help you understand the origins and habits of each animal, but to make sure you don't miss anything. I found out later from a friend that we had missed seeing the capybara, the world's largest rodent and the different species of crocodiles. The zoo is home to over 3,000 animals, 500 species which make it well worth the long drive.
Eastwood Greenview Subd. San Isidro, Rodriguez, Rizal
Tel. 634-5550 / 0917-8995126
Entrace Fee: P208 / $4 ; Tour guide (optional): P350 / $7
Hours of operation: 8am to 5pm everyday ; You can find a map to the zoo here.