If you’re hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate. You’ll get the same kind of feeling and you won’t have to pay.
— Former United States Senator Bob Dole
WHEN I started out as a feature writer three decades ago, there were two places I often visited to do my research and gather data from which I based the articles I wrote—the National Museum and Manila Zoo (or more precisely the Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden).
Apart from the special reports I did, I was also doing a quick puzzle I called ‘Alam Ba Ninyo’ which featured unfamiliar animals and their amazing attributes and traits that readers had to guess from their silhouettes. This was run daily, so I had to visit the zoo more often than the museum.
And at Manila Zoo, I became a close friend of its director then, Dr. Jimmy Boston, and his underlings—among them veterinarians Momi Bernardo, Ming Sandig, and Alex Bascug. During those happy days there, I helped out feeding the animals on display or even when they had to be treated or operated on for injuries or an ailment, like when the ovary of one lioness had to be taken out.
It was from my frequent visits that I also got to know about the different animals and their unusual stories. There was Scud, the lion with vertigo; Peejay, the first Philippine crocodile (Crocodilus mindorensis) born —or hatched—in captivity; Sheeba, the elephant and oldest zoo resident until it died, in 1992 I think; Peter, the orangutan who was always doing some mischief; and of course, Daktari, who was born in the zoo and became my beloved pet tiger.
Indeed there were other animals but most were nameless like the huge pythons and other snakes and flocks of birds ranging from the huge cassowary and ostrich to the highly-perched eagles and tiny parakeets. There was even a rare sun bear, which was donated by the JEST (Jungle Environment Survival Training) Zoo in Subic, Zambales but it died due to some lingering sickness.
When I was at Manila Zoo and after research, I volunteered as a guide and I narrated to visitors the animal stories I learned, and I did this with a huge albino Burmese python wrapped around my neck and body.
So those were my happy days at Manila Zoo and now nearly three decades past, it is newly renovated with a botanical and butterfly garden, an animal museum, elevated viewing decks and other new attractions and Manila mayor Francisco ‘Isko Moreno’ Domagoso says he is confident that it would draw both local and foreign tourists alike.
At the zoo entrance, they will be greeted with a replica of Vishwamali or Mali, the zoo’s famous elephant who has been a resident since 1977.
Manila Zoo was actually established in July 1959 and the current major renovation is its first. Its new look is therefore a welcome development for its workers, including Edsel Isidro, 55, who as an animal keeper for the past two decades, recalled the old days when low cages had him passing through a cave-like structure while bent over and enduring the stink.
“If you are a keeper, you need to have a place where you can monitor the animals. Back then, we could not even stand the state of their enclosures,” Isidro said.
One of the priorities of the renovation was to draft a plan for a sewage treatment facility, which has since been installed. There is a sign with a flowchart outside the facility showing the process of waste treatment.
Domagoso likened the refurbished 5-hectare facility to certain spots in Japan, or even the fictitious Jurassic Park. “It’s very beautiful . . . I assure you, even foreigners would come here,” he said.
But before the public comes to visit, the families of around 1,300 workers will be the guests at the soft opening, “as a tribute to their hard work and ingenuity in creating a facility that is ‘at par with the world’s best zoological and botanical gardens’,” Domagoso said.
We praise the mayor for having finally renovated the zoo, but what he has forgotten though are the animals inside the cages who are exposed to Metro Manila’s densely polluted air, and they will soon die. (ai/mtvn)