ANIMAL SHOWS, RIDES, AND CONTACT SESSIONS
Why is there a need for shows?
We believe that animal shows and contact sessions are among the most valuable, unforgettable and educational experiences that visitors can enjoy while visiting our parks. Our animal shows and contact sessions mainly focus on fostering, educating and conveying conservation awareness of endangered species of fauna and flora.
While all animal shows and contact sessions will have an entertainment component, which is important in gaining the attention of the general public, ultimately they are conceptualised to convey love and respect for animals as well as a strong biodiversity conservation message.
Where "wild" animals are used in presentations, we work towards having these presentations: (a) deliver a sound conservation message, or be of other educational value, (b) focus on natural behaviour, (c) not demean or trivialise the animal in any way.
How do you train the animals?
The animals in our show presentations are trained using operant conditioning with food rewards as the positive reinforcement. In other words, the animals are not forced to perform the desired behaviours but through the positive reinforcement it increases the occurrences of the desired behaviours.
Training sessions, while held regularly, do not stretch more than 20-30mins at a time, to ensure our animals are not stressed out by the routine.
In all our animal presentations, visitors can see the spontaneous interaction between the keepers and animals. This close relationship makes it possible for our keepers/presenters to maintain a free contact relationship where no barriers exist between man and animal. Furthermore, actions featured are based on non-stressful and adaptive behaviour of the animals.
Why do the elephant keepers carry a metal hook when working with elephants?
The metal hook carried by our elephant keepers is a traditional tool called the ‘ankus’.
Our elephant keepers use a combination of leg movements, voice commands and the ankus when working with the elephants. The ankus is a tool that is used in training and managing elephants. Our experienced elephant keepers are skilled in applying gentle pressure on various points on the elephant while giving voice commands to guide the elephants. It is a common and important tool used by elephant keepers all over the world that practice a free contact management of elephants.
How does WRS manage its elephants?
Our elephant keepers have developed a strong bond over the years with the elephants under their care and this close relationship is one based on trust, respect and affection. Being social animals, our elephants have in effect accepted their human keepers as herd members.
At WRS we have 2 different systems of managing our elephants. One via free contact for the female elephants and the second, via protected contact for the bull elephants. Both systems allow us to easily provide routine health care services such as daily physical examination, bathing and skin scrubbing, and regular foot and nail trimming. Simple inspection and treatment by our veterinarians can also be performed on the elephants with the facilitation by the elephant keepers.
In the free contact management system of our female elephants, the trust of the elephants toward their keepers is most apparent when they allow their calves to be ‘handled’ by our elephant keepers, a task traditionally reserved for the elephant matriarch or revered aunties within an elephant herd.
Exhibit space for animals
Are the animals given enough space in their exhibits and dens?
The habitats we create for our animals meet or exceed international best practice standards for animals under human care. Apart from size consideration, the habitats are designed by our animal experts with special features to allow the animals to express as full a range of their natural behaviour as possible. Examples include perches and branches for tree dwelling species, mud wallows for elephants and rhinoceroses, pools or streams for aquatic or amphibious animals.
Special ‘facilities’ are also catered for such as retreats and denning areas.
Flash photography effects on animals
Are the animals adversely affected by camera flash? What do you do to stop people from using flash?
In some cases, such as for animals adapted to low light conditions or particularly sensitive animals, flash photography can result in these animals changing their behaviour such as retreat from human view. In order to increase the chances of our visitors observing these animals, we ask our visitors not to use flash photography. We have placed ‘no flash photography’ signs around the park to remind our visitors not to use flash, and our staff will reiterate the message as necessary to visitors.
Animal enrichment, animals perceived to have perculiar behaviour
To create as varied and as enriched an environment as possible for our animals, we have an on-going enrichment programme for our animals. This includes providing custom made imported enrichment devices regularly, operant conditioning training of selected species, and animal presentations.
Every so often, visitors observe certain behaviour of our animals and are concerned for their welfare. Some examples are:
Omar the white tiger
We have conducted observational studies on the pacing behaviours of animals and in the case of Omar, his pacing behaviour is apparent before the token feeding time and closing time, when the animals are full of expectation for the activity ahead. In other words Omar is behaving much like an excited big cat before an anticipated positive event. In contrast, this behaviour is not evident in our female white tiger, which tends to be a more relaxed creature.
Komali the Asian elephant
Komali, the Asian elephant, sometimes displays weaving behaviour. She came to us from another country where she spent much of her youth chained up, and arrived in Singapore in the 1970s. Since then, our keepers have been providing various types of enrichment to help reduce the weaving behaviour, and she continues to respond well to these activities. Just like old habits in humans, once formed they are hard to get rid of, but by providing more activities for her we are now able to reduce this abnormal behaviour to acceptable levels.
Jia Jia the giant panda
Among the two giant pandas in our collection, Kai Kai is more outgoing and visitors can see his different antics, from chewing on his bamboo to taking a nap in visible locations in his exhibit. Jia Jia, on the other hand, is more shy and reserved. At times, she prefers to retreat to her den. We even added a CCTV live feed in February 2013 to allow visitors to have a peek into her private quarters.
We allow Jia Jia to exercise control over where she chooses to be, either in the exhibit or back into her den. Access to her den is usually available after our keepers have cleaned her area – all part of an important aspect of Jia Jia's daily care. While her den is being cleaned, Jia Jia has the option to roam in her outdoor exhibit. While Jia Jia is naturally shy, occasionally, we have seen her eating comfortably in the presence of many visitors in the Giant Panda Forest.
Polar bear in the tropics
What is the purpose of having arctic animals (polar bears) at Singapore Zoo?
Polar bears have been in Singapore Zoo since the late 1970s, and like the other animals in our care, are ambassadors for the world’s biodiversity, a fair proportion of which are now threatened because of human-related causes such as climate change, habitat destruction and unsustainable use. Singapore Zoo serves as a very important educational venue, for the more than 1.7 million visitors annually, to understand the threats faced by wildlife, and hopefully become empowered to make small but significant changes in our lifestyles, habits or contributions towards wildlife and nature conservation.
How has Singapore Zoo ensured the comfort and safety of Inuka, its polar bear?
Inuka’s new habitat in Frozen Tundra features a spacious outdoor area with multiple substrate types for him to dig and play in. One third of the outdoor area is shaded. He has a deep pool to swim and splash around in. Inuka has whole day access to a climate controlled indoor area if he wishes to ‘chill’.
A team of dedicated keepers takes care of Inuka’s daily needs, which include providing a nutritionally balanced but varied diet, and an enrichment programme to keep him mentally and physically occupied.
What organisations did WRS consult with or seek input from when designing the new exhibit?
We sought advice from the WRS Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee (AWEC) and other zoos in the world that house polar bears. AWEC’s recommendation was that the exhibit was to meet the Manitoba standards in housing and design. They also suggested adding different substrates in the enclosure, such as branches, straw, pebbles and sand.
Isn't the Singapore climate too hot for Inuka?
Inuka has constant access to a large pool and a climate controlled indoor exhibit to cool off whenever he wants. His den is also climate controlled.
Inuka, being the first polar bear born in the tropics, has spent his entire life in Singapore. He is well-accustomed to our tropical climate, and we have provided him with the essential activities and areas to ensure his comfort.
Why does Inuka keep doing laps around his pool?
Inuka has been observed to engage in swimming short repetitive laps as part of his daily routine. His keepers who keep a close watch on him and know him very well, think that Inuka is combining two things he enjoys most in this activity: to be close to visitors (swimming towards the glass) and exercising (in the wild polar bears swim vast distances in search of prey).
By itself the activity is not harmful and not an indication that the animal is stressed. An analogy could be a human running on a treadmill to exercise. Throughout the day Inuka's keepers monitor him closely for indicators of stress and this includes his appetite, general demeanour (e.g. responsiveness and alertness), behaviour and activity patterns; zoo veterinarians also regularly monitor his health conditions. All of these indicators currently show that we have a very contented and well-looked after polar bear.
To make Inuka's life as interesting as possible his keepers implement an enrichment programme which consists of items and activities that include toys and novel items such as ice blocks, boomer balls, logs, browse, scatter feeding and random feeding times.
Inuka looks like he's losing a lot of fur. Is this normal?
Polar bears go through a natural process called moulting, when they lose a large amount of fur and their underlying black skin can be seen. It is not an indication of ill health.
Inuka moults once a year, but the process often takes up to six months to complete. We've observed Inuka's moulting pattern usually starts late April and ends in October. His new coat starts growing around November and by end January, the black patches will no longer be visible as his new fur would be fully grown.
Why does Inuka's fur look green?
One of Inuka's favourite pastime is swimming in his deep pool. Under certain conditions the microscopic algae that occur naturally in water enter his hollow hair shaft resulting in the greenish tinge. This has been observed in Polar Bears from zoos in temperate countries as well.
Does the green algae hurt him?
Rest assured, this algae growth is not doing any harm to Inuka. Neither is it an indication that he is stressed. Inuka’s health is carefully monitored by our experienced team of keepers and veterinarians, and any indication of ill health or stress is immediately looked into.
When will we see a white Inuka again?
Once Inuka completes the regular shedding of his fur coat in a few months’ time, the algae will no longer be present.