Then we're left with the urban jungle. So where did we go (title's a dead giveaway)? Just a two-kilometer stroll from our place is the Manila Zoo. I decided it was about time for a revisit.
I was probably 3-4 years old when my parents took me to this zoo. The first and last time. If I remember correctly, the primary reason was because when our nursery class had a field trip to Manila Zoo, me and a classmate were left behind unbeknownst to our teachers. We stayed too long at the playground.
When I got home that afternoon, I lied to my parents. I made up stories about elephants, giraffes and other animals which my classmates told me about. They eventually found out I was only fantasizing when a refund was sent to them a few days after.
Two decades and then some have past, and there I was at the entrance. All grown up, married, and about to have my own baby. My sentiment though was wholly composed of skepticism as opposed to childish anticipation. I have not read a single (believable) rave review of the zoo ever.
Manila Zoo is open daily from 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM. Admission fee: P40 for adults and P20 for kids below 4 feet. Manila residents get a 50% discount, just present a valid I.D. that shows your address.
Its entrance is along Adriatico St. corner Quirino Avenue. To get there, take LRT 1 and alight at Quirino Station. Then ride a jeep bound for Dakota/Harrison (P7), less than 10 minutes without traffic. Ask the driver to drop you off the zoo.
Since it was Mother's Day, Manila Zoo was packed with couples and families. Everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. We got in at 4:00 PM. The sun was still harsh. We have not done any sightseeing yet but I was already exhausted because of the two-kilometer walk from our place.
Past the entrance gate, we turned left toward Kinder Zoo after a stranger oddly approached us and cheerfully recommended it. He said that inside Kinder Zoo, visitors could interact and play with tamed animals. "Maganda magpa-picture!" (good for pictures), he exclaimed.
When we got there though, we found out that you have to pay a separate P75 fee (same cost for adults and children) to get in. We asked what type of animals were there, and nothing really sparked our interest so we skipped it.
There's a man-made lake within the zoo. If you feel like rowing, boat rental is P60 per hour for 5 persons. Nearby the lake are tables and chairs where families were gaily picnicking under limited tree shade. It was a humbling experience to watch them. There they were contentedly feasting on home cooked adobo and pancit bihon, while other families were celebrating at posh restos in malls and hotels.
The various smells from the packed meals made me hungry, so we bought kikiam and squid balls (P10 per stick). It was Shervin's first time to try kikiam and he really liked it (though he finds its appearance non-appetizing). After our light snack, we downed a glass of gulaman to quench our thirst. We were still full but we bought cotton candy, which I haven't had for ages, to munch on while wandering. Time to see the animals.
If you have been to other zoos, you'll most likely be disappointed. I myself have been to Ocean Park in Hong Kong and Al Ain Zoo in United Arab Emirates, and Manila Zoo is nowhere close to their league.
It does not take an expert's eye to realize that the animals' well-being is (unintentionally?) neglected. And who's to blame? Well, it's difficult to point fingers. Government officials are too busy trying to solve more important issues like alleviating poverty. Clearly humans come first, ei?
Then there's the measly admission fee. Though the zoo can draw a decent number of crowds, the profit may still not be enough to pay much needed zookeepers, veterinarians and food for the animals. But then again, if the ticket price is raised, less people will be able to afford it - and the zoo's main target is the masa.
And speaking of the masa, visitors play a major part in maintaining the zoo as well, without them realizing it. There are boards posted all over the park saying "Please don't feed the animals" and not everyone's obeying such reminder. Worse, the animals are being fed with plastic wrappers and styro containers!
Since there are no visible zookeepers patrolling, I hope the parents keep an eye on their kids and teach them proper behavior towards the animals. They should be taught that these caged creatures are not toys and that they're not there just for show, but for educational purposes.
On the bright side, to be fair, there are actually a few things I was happy about. Most cages are properly labeled, with a detailed description of each specie. I noticed though that most people just read out the names to their kids - not that the tots gave a dang anyway.
The Reptile House looked pretty new and houses healthy snakes and lizards in neat cages. For me the most eye-pleasing of all.
The resident elephant's cage was being expanded and there were a few other cages here and there under construction also. At least the management is working on bits of improvement. And I hope they continue doing so. The zoo's been open to the public since 1959, one of the oldest in Asia. It would be a shame to eventually close it down due to poor maintenance.
I am not the biggest animal lover in the planet but I left the grounds with a heavy heart. I am not entirely against zoos because it's a way of giving kids (especially those with parents who cannot afford to travel) a chance to see wild animals up close, and not just in books.
As an expectant mom, I am very much concerned. We, the government and the people, should find ways to help save the place from total dilapidation. I plan to take my soon to be daughter to Manila Zoo someday. And when that time comes, I hope it's still standing.
[Are you aware of any volunteer programs for Manila Zoo? I sent a message to My Zoo Foundation's email, but it bounced back. Apparently their inbox is already overflowing. I checked the website again recently (June 2) and its domain is pending for renewal or deletion. I believe Hands On Manila's supposed to have but there are no scheduled activities yet. Please let us know.]
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