Singapore Zoo

The Singapore Zoo, formerly known as the Singapore Zoological Gardens or Mandai Zoo and now commonly known locally as the Singapore Zoo, occupies 28 hectares (69 acres) on the margins of Upper Seletar Reservoir within Singapore's heavily forested central catchment area. The zoo was built at a cost of $9 million granted by the government of Singapore and opened on 27 June 1973. It is operated by Wildlife Reserves Singapore, who also manage the neighbouring Night Safari, River Safari and the Jurong Bird Park. There are about 315 species of animal in the zoo, of which some 16 percent are considered to be threatened species. The zoo attracts 1.7 million visitors each year.[1]

Singapore Zoo
Date opened27 June 1973 (1973-06-27)
LocationMandai, Singapore
80 Mandai Lake Road, Singapore 729826
Coordinates1°24′14″N 103°47′39″E
Land area28 ha (69 acres)
No. of animals2,530
No. of species315
Annual visitors1.7 million[1]
WebsiteSingapore Zoo

From the beginning, Singapore Zoo followed the modern trend of displaying animals in naturalistic, 'open' exhibits with hidden barriers, moats, and glass between the animals and visitors. It houses the largest captive colony of orangutans in the world.[2]


Prior to the establishment of Singapore Zoo, there were other short-lived zoos in Singapore's history, including the first recorded zoo founded in the early 1870s at the present-day Singapore Botanic Gardens,[3] a zoo opened in the 1920s in Ponggol (present-day Punggol) by animal trader William Lawrence Soma Basapa and two zoos run by two brothers by the surname of Chan during the 1960s.

The conception of the Singapore Zoo dates from 1969. At the time, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) decided to use some of its land holdings around reservoirs for parks and open recreational facilities. The executive chairman of the PUB, Dr Ong Swee Law, set aside 88 ha (220 acres) of land for the construction of a zoological garden.

In 1970, consultants and staff were hired, and in 1971, the construction of the basic 50 enclosures was started. Animals were collected from dealers and donated by sponsors. The director of the Colombo Zoo in Sri Lanka, Lyn de Alwis, was hired as a special consultant to work out the problems inherent in tropical zoos.[4]

On 27 June 1973, the Singapore Zoo opened its gates for the first time with a collection of 270 animals from over 72 species, and a staff of 130. By 1990, 1,600 animals from more than 160 species lived in social groups, housed in 65 landscaped exhibits with boundaries conceived to look as natural as possible.

In 1987, the zoo began to display rare animals loaned by other zoos. The first animals displayed in this manner were the rare golden snub-nosed monkeys from China in 1987, which attracted more than half a million visitors. This was followed by white tigers from Cincinnati Zoo in 1988 and giant pandas from Wolong National Nature Reserve in 1990.[2]

On 1 August 2000, Singapore Zoological Gardens, Jurong Bird Park and Night Safari were integrated under Wildlife Reserves Singapore, under the umbrella of Temasek Holdings. The zoo underwent a restructuring to improve its efficiency and branding which included merging of shared services and expansion of consultancy services overseas. Night Safari, which began under the zoo, became a separate branding entity.

The restructuring of the zoo was not without controversy. Several key staff, including CEO Bernard Harrison, left as a result in 2002, citing differences in management style. In 2003, Wildlife Reserves Singapore launched a massive rebranding exercise, which was shelved due to widespread public disapproval. The name of the zoo was simplified to Singapore Zoo sometime by 2005.

As a result of the restructuring, more facilities were launched, such as a S$3.6 million Wildlife Healthcare & Research Centre in 2005. Existing infrastructure was revamped to further enhance the experience of visitors. The growth in revenue continued on an upward trend.


Animals are kept in spacious, landscaped enclosures separated from the visitors by dry and wet moats. The moats are concealed with vegetation or dropped below the line of sight. Dangerous animals that can climb well are housed in landscaped glass-fronted enclosures.

The zoo has not expanded beyond the original 28 hectares. However, 40 hectares of secondary forest were later developed into the Night Safari. The remaining undeveloped land has been kept as wooded land. This and the waters of Upper Seletar Reservoir contribute to the zoo, giving it a sense of natural, unrestricted space.

The zoo also offers various modes of rides available within the premises: trams, animals, boat, pony and horse carriage rides.

Strollers, wagons and wheelchairs can also be rented.

Animals at Singapore Zoo as of 2019:[5]

Treetops Trail
Gibbon Island
Frozen Tundra
Free Ranging Orangutan Island
Wild Africa
Cat Country
Reptile Garden


Africa and Madagascar
South America
Deserts of the World
Sungei Buaya
Tortoise Shell-ter
Fragile Forest
SPH Foundation Conservation Center
Elephants of Asia
Primate Kingdom
Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia
Rainforest Kidzworld

Education and conservation

The Wildlife Healthcare & Research Centre was opened in March 2006 as part of the zoo's efforts in wildlife conservation. The centre further underscores Singapore Zoo and Night Safari's commitment to conservation research, providing the infrastructure for the parks and overseas zoological partners to better execute their research programmes. The Singapore Zoo is the first zoo in the world to breed a polar bear in the tropics. Inuka was born on 26 December 1990, died 25 April 2018 (aged 27).[2]

The zoo also embarked on various rescue and conservation efforts to protect wildlife. Steve Irwin, the animal activist and conservationist known as "The Crocodile Hunter", admired the Singapore Zoo greatly, adopting it as the 'sister zoo' to Australia Zoo. He was at the Singapore Zoo in 2006 to officiate the opening of the Australian Outback exhibit.[6]


"Breakfast with an Orangutan" allows visitors to meet and interact closely with the orangutans in the zoo, which has included Ah Meng (died on 8 February 2008) who was an icon of the Singapore tourism industry. Animal shows, as well as token feedings coupled with live commentaries by keepers, are also the daily staple in Singapore Zoo.

The "Rainforest Fights Back" show is housed in the Shaw Amphitheatre, the main amphitheatre in the zoo. Actors and performers act alongside the animals: in-show, a villainous poacher attempts to mow down a section of tropical rainforest for land development, and is foiled by the native people and the animals of the rainforest—orangutans, lemurs, pea-fowls, otters and cockatiels.

The "Elephants at Work and Play" show demonstrates how elephants are used as beasts of burden in south-east Asian countries. The animal caretakers are referred to as mahouts, and the show simulates how a mahout would instruct an elephant to transport logs or kneel so that they can be mounted.

The "Splash Safari" show exhibits the zoo's aquatic mammals and birds. Seals and sea lions perform tricks, and pelicans demonstrate how they catch fish in their beaks, while dolphins swim in the pond.

The "Animal Friends" show, housed in the Kidzworld amphitheatre in the zoo's children's section, features mostly domesticated animals such as dogs and parrots performing tricks with the aim of teaching young children about pet responsibility.

Organising events

There are three events venues in the zoo: Forest Lodge, Pavilion-By-the-Lake and Garden Pavilion. There are also three cocktail venues: Elephants of Asia, Tiger Trek and Treetops Trail. The Singapore Zoo also caters for birthday parties and weddings.


On 7 March 1973, a black panther escaped from the zoo before it had opened.[7]

In early 1974, a hippopotamus named Congo escaped from the zoo and spent 47 days in the Seletar Reservoir.[8]

Other escapes in 1974 included an eland and a tiger.[9]

On 13 November 2008, two Bengal white tigers mauled a zoo cleaner to death after he jumped into a moat surrounding their enclosure and taunted the animals.[10]


Awarded to Singapore Zoo:[11]

  • Travellers' Choice Awards - Top 3 Zoos in the World, 2018
  • Singapore Tourism Awards, 2017
  • Traveller's Choice Awards - Zoos and Aquariums, 2017, 2015 and 2014
  • Best Customer Service (Retail) Award, 2014
  • Meritorious Defence Partner Award, 2013
  • Singapore Experience Awards, 2013
  • Singapore Service Award, 2013
  • Singapore Service Excellence Medallion - Organisation, 2013
  • Meritorious Defence Partner Award, 2012
  • Most Popular Wildlife Park, Asian Attractions Awards, 2011
  • Michelin 3-star rating, 2008
  • Best Breakfast, 40 Jewels in ASEAN's Crown, 2007
  • One of the World's Best Zoos,, 2007
  • Bronze, Singapore H.E.A.L.T.H Awards, 2004
  • Leisure Attraction of the Year, 6th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 20th and 22nd Singapore Tourism Board Awards
  • Best New Attraction for the hamadryas baboons exhibit, ASEAN Tourism Association, 2002
  • Cleanest Toilet, Ministry of Environment, 1997 and 1998


  1. "About Wildlife Reserves Singapore". Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Archived from the original on 21 November 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  2. Catharine E. Bell (January 2001). Encyclopedia of the World's Zoos. Taylor & Francis. p. 1155. ISBN 978-1-57958-174-9.
  3. "Fortnight's summary". The Straits Times. 5 March 1870.
  4. Vernon N. Kisling (18 September 2000). Zoo and Aquarium History: Ancient Animal Collections to Zoological Gardens. CRC Press. p. 233. ISBN 978-1-4200-3924-5.
  5. "Map of Singapore Zoo" (PDF). Singapore Zoo. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 September 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  6. "Remembering Steve Irwin" (PDF). Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 March 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  7. "Headlines that shook Singapore (since 1955)". Remember Singapore. 24 January 2011. Archived from the original on 20 March 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  8. "Flashback: 40 Years of The Singapore Zoo". The Straits Times. 2013. Archived from the original on 16 June 2015.
  9. "Bernard Harrison interview (part 2)". The Independent Singapore. 20 September 2013. Archived from the original on 27 February 2014.
  10. "Cleaner mauled to death by three rare white tigers at Singapore Zoo in front of horrified visitors". MailOnline. 13 November 2008. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  11. "About Singapore Zoo". Archived from the original on 22 March 2019. Retrieved 31 March 2019.


  • Véronique Sanson (1992). Gardens and Parks of Singapore. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-588588-0
  • Ilsa Sharp (1994). The First 21 Years: The Singapore Zoological Gardens Story. Singapore Zoological Gardens. ISBN 981-00-5674-5
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