Justine Tyerman has a thrilling, action-packed evening at Night Safari in Singapore as part of a Singapore Airlines stopover package en route to Laos with Innovative Travel.
The animals at Singapore’s Night Safari were so obliging, at first I was convinced they were life-like moving models. As we drove around in the cool of the evening, every animal appeared right on cue, just a few metres away from our safari wagon tram.
Within 40 minutes, we were taken around the world to six geographical regions – the Himalayas, India, Africa, Asia, Nepal and Burma – and met over 1000 animals from 120 different species.
Lions, tigers, leopards, rhinos, hippos, elephants, hyenas, deer, water buffalo, sloth bears, Asiatic black bears, otters and countless other creatures were roaming freely or enjoying their night time feed in wide open spaces that closely replicate their natural habitat. Many are endangered with few left in the wild.
We began our journey in the rocky, arid, steep terrain of the Himalayan foothills where sure-footed tahr were silhouetted high on rocky outcrops. Bharal, or blue sheep, and mouflon, ancestors of the domestic sheep, were grazing, along with the world’s largest wild goat, the markhor, with its long corkscrew horns.
Travelling through India, we met barasingha deer whose spectacular antlers have as many as 12 spikes, and striped hyena foraging for food. We explored the dense Gir Forest where a pride of lions were munching on their meaty dinner. Smaller than their African cousins, there are only around 300 surviving in the wild today.
India is also home to the sloth bear whose loud sucking noises we could hear as they extracted tasty morsels from insect mounds.
On the plains of Equatorial Africa, we encountered a graceful Cape giraffe, scimitar-horned oryx and noisy ‘laughing hyena’. Africa’s biggest antelope, the bongo, were an impressive sight with their spiralling horns, white stripes and chestnut red coat.
My favourite here was the Nile hippopotamus, a grass-eating heavyweight whose quizzical looks belie his dangerous nature. The commentary in tram told us hippos kill more humans in Africa than any other animals.
Rainforests of Southeast Asia
In the rainforests of Southeast Asia, we were surrounded by bearded pigs, the highly social red dholes and free-roaming Malayan tapirs foraging for shoots and leaves in the undergrowth right beside the tram.
We came face-to-tusk, at a safe distance, with the enormous bull elephant Chawang, the icon of Night Safari, and a herd of female Asian elephants looking after a little calf. Such an awesome sight in the moonlight!
The marshlands of the Nepalese River valley are the natural habitat of the rhinoceros. He looks like a tank with his layers of grey armour. Tragically, his trademark horn makes him a target for poaching and there are fewer than 2000 greater Asian rhinoceros left in the wild today.
We also spotted sambar, the largest of Asia’s deer, and the free-ranging spotted axis deer.
An Indian wolf was howling to the moon as we left the valley and moved on to a hillside in Burma, home to the world’s largest wild cattle, the gaur. Weighing as much as a tonne, the humpback males can clear a six-foot fence from a standing jump.
At the other end of the cattle scale are the petite banteng. The bulls have horns that look like a Viking headdress.
Another highlight of Night Safari is the Malayan tiger, a magnificent creature that can be spotted prowling or lounging around his spacious home. I was horrified to hear they are also critically-endangered with only about 240-350 are left in the wild today.
So too the Asiatic black bear. The existence in the wild of these omnivores, also known as moon bears due to the sickle-shaped patch of white fur on their chest, is precarious. Their habitat is being destroyed due to deforestation and in some parts of the world, they are farmed in cages for the bile from their gall bladders, a substance used in traditional medicine.
It’s heart-breaking to imagine these beautiful animals shut up in cages all their lives.
If you have time, you can also follow four interlinked walking trails that take you even closer to Sri Lankan leopards, wallabies, fishing cats, otters and the critically-endangered Sunda pangolin.
Creatures of the Night Show
After the safari, make sure you catch the Creatures of the Night Show, a highly-entertaining, fun, informative 20-minute animal extravaganza starring an otter that knows how to recycle rubbish, the African serval or wild cat that leaps staggeringly-high in the air to catch its prey and… I had a feeling it was coming… Maggie, the very, very long reticulated python.
Being a snake-phobic Kiwi, my heart started pounding at the mere sight of the massive creature. Needless to say I was not one of the many who volunteered to hold, pat and get to know Maggie.
If that’s not sufficient excitement for one evening, watch the adrenalin-pumping Thumbuakar tribal pyro warriors’ fire-eating, flame-throwing and fire sticks performance. The pair spewed flames high in the air at the death-defying climax of the show.
I got such a fright, I leapt backwards and landed on a young Aussie who kindly stood me back up on my own feet.
Night Safari is just one of four world-class wildlife reserves in the city, the others being Singapore Zoo, the world’s best rainforest zoo; River Safari, Asia’s only river-themed wildlife park; and Jurong Bird Park, Asia’s largest bird aviary.
Night Safari, River Safari and Singapore Zoo are located in Mandai, north Singapore within walking distance of each other, while Jurong Bird Park is west of Singapore. To do these world-class, award-winning attractions justice, allocate at least half a day to each – or a day if you are a wildlife lover like me.
And there’s much more to come. Within the next four or five years, the Mandai precinct on which Night Safari stands, will see the addition of a new Bird Park, Rainforest Park, a nature-themed indoor attraction and eco-accommodation linked by walking trails and boardwalks.
Development will be completed in phases, with the Bird Park and Rainforest Park scheduled to open by 2020 and 2021.
Night Safari FACTBOX:
Justine Tyerman travelled with Innovative Travel, a New Zealand-based boutique tour operator with 27 years’ experience offering travellers the opportunity to explore historically and culturally unique destinations worldwide that provide a challenge but with the security of a peace-of-mind 24/7 ‘wrap-around’ service.
Singapore Airlines has a code-share agreement with Swiss International Airlines (SWISS).
On the way to your destination, experience the sights and sounds of multicultural Singapore with a stay at Singapore Airlines’ selection of hotels, admission to over 15 tourist attractions, complimentary rides on the SIA Hop-on Bus and more.
Among the top tourist attractions included free in the stopover package are
- Night Safari
- Singapore Zoo
- Jurong Bird Park
- Gardens by the Bay (see my next review)
- Chinatown Heritage Centre
- Malay Heritage Centre
- Indian Heritage Centre
- Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
- MINT Museum of Toys
- National Gallery Singapore
- National Museum of Singapore
- National Orchid Garden
- Singapore Cable Car from Faber Peak to Sentosa Island
- Singapore Flyer, one of the world’s largest Giant Observation wheels/li>
- Singapore River Cruise
- Original Singapore Walks in cultural and historical enclaves such as Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Gelam
- SIA Hop-On Bus which is a great way to go shopping and see the city sights (see my next review)