Happy 50th Birthday Singapore Zoo, and Happy ZOObilee to You!

It’s bright and early in the morning, and the sun’s rays beat down your back. The air is filled with a symphony of sounds made by animals that have your heads snapping left and right in curiosity. The oh-so-infamous scent (note the sarcasm) lingers in the air, along with the unmistakable whiff of insect repellent. Have I unlocked some memories? I’m talking about Singapore Zoo, the enchanting sanctuary of wildlife’s enigmatic wonders and nostalgia. 

It’s the place we’d go to for ‘learning journeys’ back in kindergarten and primary school or perhaps for a spontaneous trip to check out the majestic creatures of wildlife. Today, the place of our childhood turns the big 50! Happy ZOObilee!

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee: Golden ZOObilee Sweet Treats
You can’t celebrate without dessert!Get a taste of these Golden ZOObilee Sweet Treats at Ah Meng Bistro & The Wild Mart at Singapore Zoo!

Singapore Zoo will always be an integral part of our country and our memories. 50 years of Singapore Zoo means 50 years of incredible achievements that will go down in history. It feels only fitting that this Golden ZOObilee, we look back at Singapore Zoo’s journey and celebrate the place that bestowed upon us a tapestry of cherished memories from our childhood and youth. 

Warning: the following content could make you emotional, make your heart swell with pride, and trigger tears. Be prepared with some tissues! Ready? Here we go. 

1973 – Hello, Singapore Zoological Gardens!

On 27 June 1973, we said hello to Singapore Zoological Gardens. It was later renamed to the beloved ‘Singapore Zoo’ that we know all too well today. 

At the time of opening, it occupied about 28 hectares of land and featured a total of 272 animals across 72 species. Seem like such big numbers, don’t they? But today, Singapore Zoo is home to more than 4,200 animals from over 300 species. Isn’t it incredible how these numbers are enough to prove the journey we’ve been through? Oh, how far you’ve come, Singapore Zoo!

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee: Tiger
“Peekaboo! Are you here to wish me a Happy ZOObilee?”

1974 – One million visitors

Just 17 months after opening its doors, Singapore Zoo welcomed its one-millionth visitor on Deepavali! Just to give you a gauge as to how remarkable this is, the initial estimate was that it would take two and a half years (or 30 months) to reach this milestone. But it took almost half that time for us to get there. Cue the applause!

1990 – Inuka, the first polar bear in the tropics

Behold, Singapore Zoo welcomed and celebrated the birth of the first polar bear born in the tropics! He was named Inuka, which means ‘silent stalker’ in the Inuit language. So mysterious! His parents, Sheba and Nanook, arrived in the zoo in 1978, and the Polar Bear exhibit opened that same year. Inuka made his first public appearance at three months old. Cue the baby talk!

However, in 2018, Inuka was put down due to old age and health problems. He was 27 when he passed, but well in his 70s in human years. He was Singapore Zoo’s last polar bear. You did good, Inuka. Thank you for the irreplaceable moments of happiness you gave us when we were kids. A trip to Singapore Zoo was never complete without watching you.

Singapore Zoo Golden ZOObilee: free-range Orangutans
Orangutans: “No pictures, please!” Oops.

1992 – Ah Meng received the Special Tourism Ambassador award

We simply can’t talk about Singapore Zoo’s journey and milestones without mentioning Ah Meng, the Sumatran Orangutan. Having been there from the very start, she made an indelible mark in our hearts and minds, being one of the most loved icons of our zoo. In 1992, Ah Meng became the first and only non-human recipient of the Special Tourism Ambassador award by the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board for her outstanding contributions to promoting Singapore Zoo as a tourism experience. 

By 1986, the iconic orangutan had graced the silver screen in nearly 30 mesmerising travel films, leaving audiences spellbound with her enchanting presence. Her captivating allure had transcended cinema screens as she took over the pages of hundreds of newspapers and travel magazines. She also shared hallowed spaces with movie stars and royalty like Prince Philip, David Copperfield, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. Ah Meng, you superstar!

1998 – The opening of Fragile Forest

We saw the opening of Singapore Zoo’s first immersive exhibit – Fragile Forest. This massive 20,000 cubic metre biodome mimics a tropical rainforest habitat. Today, you’ll see a range of species, such as Ruffed Lemurs, Scorpions and Hanging Parrots, and they all roam freely.

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee: Fragile Forest
Little fella sat right in front of us, posing for a picture! Such is the magic of Fragile Forest.

There’s also been a thoughtful inclusion of tribal elements around the Fragile Forest, which serves as a reminder to us all of the plight of forest tribes due to deforestation. So as the name suggests, this isn’t just a forest, but it’s to show how fragile our forests have become and how we must play our part in protecting nature.

2006 – The world’s first free-ranging Orangutan exhibit

Yet another incredible achievement – Singapore Zoo had the honour of opening the world’s first free-ranging Orangutan exhibit! You get to watch arboreal apes showing their natural behaviours in this treetop habitat. The area comprises tall trees, thick branches, abundant foliage, and vines that replicate the Orangutans’ natural environment to make them feel at home. This gives us the opportunity to watch their behaviours in the wild right here within the security of Singapore Zoo!

2008 – The passing of Ah Meng

At the estimated age of 50, the irreplaceable essence of Singapore Zoo, Ah Meng, passed away due to old age on 8 February 2008. About 4,000 people gathered to pay their last respects at her funeral, an extraordinary testament to her indelible legacy. She was the first zoo resident to be buried on park grounds at Garden With a View.

After her death, her presence was immortalised in a final tribute. A magnificent 1.5-tonne bronze sculpture of Ah Meng was erected as a symbol of remembrance as she forever gazes upon the place she had once called home. Thank you for your service, Ah Meng. We grew up with you, and you illuminated our world with endless smiles that we will forever cherish. You did so well.

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee: Ah Meng's Sculpture
Ah Meng will always be a part of the Singapore Zoo.

2016 – Our new ‘Ah Meng’

By now, we’ve spent 8 years without our beloved Ah Meng, but fret not! Ah Meng’s granddaughter, Ishta, was minted as the new Ah Meng to continue the legacy of

Singapore’s favourite orangutan. 

Aside from having a strong resemblance to her famous grandmother, she also exhibits the makings of a matriarch! Her patience and tolerance towards the other orangutans and her friendly personality are reminiscent of Ah Meng, and we might just see Ishta taking over the empty throne that Ah Meng had left behind. How exciting!

2018 – A revamped elephant presentation

What’s the Singapore Zoo experience without watching the elephants’ show? In 2018, Singapore Zoo introduced to us a revamped elephant presentation to not just show us the elephants’ personalities and quirks but also their natural behaviours. You’ll get to see the hardworking zookeepers demonstrate positive reinforcement methods to engage the elephants. 

I got to watch the show as well, and it was a treat to see the elephants act naturally, playing around and being mischievous while fiddling with the decorations and gobbling up the popcorn left behind by the keepers. They even showed us their tricks – an elephant version of ‘paw’, laying down in the water, opening their mouth like ‘aaah!’ and more. It was adorable! Can I take one home? (I’m kidding!)

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee: Elephants Showcase
Look at them messing around! Totes adorbs!

2021 – New logo, new corporate identity, new beginnings

Did you realise that the iconic green and black logo disappeared and was replaced with something completely different? You now see the new green and red logo with a monkey next to the name. That’s right, a new logo! 

​​The Singapore Zoo logo was refreshed alongside the new corporate identity ‘Mandai Wildlife Group, which manages all of Singapore’s wildlife parks and has since replaced ‘Wildlife Reserves Singapore’. Mandai Wildlife Reserve is now home to Singapore’s wildlife parks. Here’s to new beginnings!

2023 – Happy ZOObilee!

And today, we celebrate 50 years of Singapore Zoo! Over the past 50 years, there have been 60 million visitors that have graced our precious haven of fauna. In celebration of this grand occasion, Singapore Zoo has prepared an incredible line-up of activities you can’t miss! Hey Alexa, play ‘Celebration’ by Kool & the Gang!

First up, Singapore Zoo launched ART-ZOO Happy ZOObilee, from now till 27 August 2023. As you tour the zoo, you will find eight bespoke animal sculptures created especially for this commemorative occasion. Snap a picture of the larger-than-life inflatables and 2D sculptures of the beloved members of the Singapore Zoo family in inflatable form, including Jubilee the Rothschild’s Giraffe, Komali the Asian Elephant, Ah Meng the Sumatran Orangutan and more! 

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee Trail
Hop with a view on this inflatable art playground – for kids and adults alike!

Besides snapping away along the Happy ZOObilee trail, you can also interact with tactile play elements to get the inside scoop on your favourite animals. And since all’s well that ends well, end off the trail at the 21-metre-long inflatable art playground and let your inner child free as you hoppity-hop around! 

Take a step further and register for the Mandai Wildlife Run on 23 and 24 September 2023. Previously known as the Safari Zoo Run, which started in 2009 in memory of Ah Meng, the event makes a grand comeback after 3 years for the ZOObilee festivities! 

But wait, it gets better. You’ve run along rivers, at the beach and under the night sky. But what about running in Singapore Zoo, River Wonders and Night Safari while you take in the sights and sounds of nature? Now that’s new! And every sign-up comes with ‘Conservation Included’, which means a portion of proceeds goes towards supporting conservation projects locally and in the region. So your entry makes a difference! Registration starts today, so register right now!

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObile: Incredible Invertebrates, Butterfly Aviary
The butterflies gathered for some treats in the Butterfly Aviary. It was butterfly haven!

Singapore Zoo will launch Backstage Pass – Incredible Invertebrates on 6 August 2023. This new tour will bring you behind the scenes of Fragile Forest to discover the role of insects in our ecosystem. Believe it or not, invertebrates make up 95% of the animal kingdom, so you can hear all about it in this special program. Get hands-on with activities such as identifying butterfly eggs and releasing butterflies into the Butterfly Aviary. 

Personally, I was terrified to be near the slightly scary-looking creatures (especially the stick insect and scorpions). Still, it was mind-blowing to me that without these itty-bitty things, our world would be a dark, decomposing mess, making living for humans pretty impossible! My appreciation for them skyrocketed by the end of this amazing program, so make sure to get your own Backstage Pass from 6 July 2023 for the full experience.

Finally, get your own tour of the zoo in the Zoo Adventure Tour: ZOObilee edition from now till 27 August 2023. In this private buggy tour, you’ll get to check out key highlights of the zoo’s history, along with animal interaction and feeding sessions. Tour Singapore Zoo like never before and experience it all through a new lens, so make a booking now and check it out before it’s too late!

Singapore Zoo Happy ZOObilee: 50th birthday
Here’s to 50 years and forevermore.

Oh, the journey we’ve been on with Singapore Zoo. Whether it’s making history or making our childhoods, this magnificent place holds memories made by millions – both man and fauna alike. Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen the park hit remarkable milestones and achievements. Yet we’ve got the rest of eternity left. I can’t help but wonder what else the universe has in store for this enchanting testament to nature’s grandeur and Singaporeans’ grit.

Happy ZOObilee, Singapore Zoo. Thank you for the memories and for being the happy place for so many children, including our very own inner child. Here’s to forever.

Singapore Zoo

Address: 80 Mandai Lake Rd, Singapore 729826

Opening Hours: 8.30am – 6pm daily

Tickets to Singapore Zoo can be purchased online at the Mandai Wildlife Reserve website.

Keep up with all the latest happenings at Singapore Zoo and their Golden ZOObilee on their Official Website, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Photos by Baani Kaur of the DANAMIC Team. Additional visual courtesy of Mandai Wildlife Group.

Baani Kaur

Aspiring to achieve great heights like every human in the world, but till then, enjoy the most dramatic and sarcastic person you will ever read from.

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