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Image Credit: Singapore Zoo

Animals of the Orient

The Asian species enclosures are some of the most popular at any zoo, so why not visit these unique and fascinating creatures in their native homes on your next family holiday? Bronwyn Eley discovers the best animal encounters in Asia, from the sweet-faced to the scaly.

Rhythm of the night
Night Safari, Singapore

Have you ever wondered what the animals get up to while you sleep? Shed some light on the mystery at Night Safari in Singapore, the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals. Hop on the tram safari, an exciting 40-minute expedition allowing you to delve into the hidden lives of some of the world’s most elusive starlight creatures and explore seven geographical zones ranging from the Asian Riverine Forest to the Burmese Hillside.


While there, the Asiatic black bear, also known as the moon bear or white-chested bear due to the V-shaped patch of white fur on its chest, is a must-see. There are countless other animals unique to Asia for you to admire, including the endangered Malayan tiger, Asia’s largest deer, the sambar, and the greater one-horned rhinoceros. Kids will love staying up past their bedtime to watch these exceptional animals go about their business.

Image Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Panda playtime
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, China

Some of the world’s most cuddly creatures live in China’s Sichuan province. Located just 10km north of the city, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is home to the world’s largest artificially bred population of these bamboo-loving bears. After rescuing and re-releasing numerous ailing pandas, six were chosen to start a programme that would help revive these endangered animals.


The base offers spectacular surrounds in which to encounter an array of endangered wildlife, including swans, peacocks, birds, butterflies, red pandas and, of course, their black and white cousins. With so much to see, it’s always a good time to visit, but a recent happy arrival is just one more reason to celebrate. On 2 August, two of the base’s animal residents, Jing Jing and Si Yuan, both delivered sets of male twins and nine cubs overall, reminding all of the remarkable achievements of this centre.




Forest-dwellers of Sabah
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Malaysia

The state of Sabah is home to a dizzying array of wildlife, from flat-nosed proboscis monkeys to the cute slow loris, but it is the orangutan that is its most famous resident. While seeing one of these loping ‘men of the forest’ in the wild is extremely rare, some facilities such as the rehabilitation centre in Sepilok offers visitors an intriguing up-close encounter. Here little ones can admire these shy apes, enticed out at feeding times twice a day.


While in Sepilok, be sure to visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre next door. Opened to the public in January 2014, the BSBCC has been rescuing the world’s smallest bears since 2008 and now has 36 residents under its care. With their honey-coloured muzzle, families are sure to be charmed by their unique personalities, from Loki the Bold to Julaini the Wrinkled Friend.

Image Credit: Sabah Tourism

Image Credit: The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Komodo calling
Bali Safari & Marine Park, Bali

The Bali Safari & Marine Park will take you and your family on a journey to encounter some of Asia’s most iconic animals on the best safari outside of Africa. Hop aboard one of the park’s elephants as they plod through a savannah-inspired landscape, spotting wildebeest and zebras on the way. Your journey will be guided by an expert handler, well-versed in the personalities of each gentle giant. For a uniquely Indonesian experience, visit the Komodo dragon exhibition, where you can see this mighty lizard in its natural habitat. Native solely to Komodo Island National Park, its deadly saliva has 10 different kinds of bacteria used to kill its prey, and its heightened sense of smell makes it a formidable opponent. See for yourself why this animal is the icon of Indonesia, from a safe distance of course!

The elephant and the mahout
Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Thailand

Home to more than 50 Asian elephants, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) is known for its ground-breaking work in conservation and science as it cares for these beautiful giants. Also known for its relaxed and authentic atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to include in your Thailand itinerary if you seek an out of the ordinary encounter. Visit the onsite hospital to witness the injured and orphaned elephants as they are rehabilitated, and watch as up to 15 take their daily bath.


The home-stay programme is enormously popular, as it gives visitors the opportunity to learn how to become a mahout. This is more than just sitting on the neck of an elephant; the TECC’s overnight experiences teach guests the basics of riding an elephant, including control techniques, command words, mounting and dismounting, steering and more. With four programmes available, all providing meals, bottled water, a free mahout trainer suit and a certificate, you and your family will love this larger-than-life experience.!

Image Credit: Tourism Thailand

Image Credit: Tourism Thailand

Deep-sea dreaming
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Japan

The deep-sea is one of Earth’s great mysteries. Little is known about what hides 200 metres below the surface (the official measurement of ‘deep-sea’) and few have witnessed the creatures that call it home, until now. The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan has created an experience that reveals the mystery as families test the water temperature at a depth of 600 metres, learn how species survive in the darkness and glimpse up to 70 rare creatures in specially created exhibits. Emerging from the black, the Ocean Planetarium is a fascinating change in surrounds where families are mesmerised by species that reflect infrared light and glow like fireflies. If you’re still feeling a little baffled by what lurks in the depths, be sure to visit the Aqua Lab, the place where your marine-related questions can all be answered by the all-knowing resident experts.

Image Credit: Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

Image Credit: Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

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