Running wild

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 12:00am

The past week has been a public relations nightmare for the Singapore Zoo. When its marketing department coined the slogan 'Up close and personal with the Singapore Zoo', it could not have envisioned just how close the animals might actually get.

First, a jaguar escaped from its enclosure while being fed by its two keepers and remained on the loose for 30 minutes just outside its exhibit, forcing the temporary evacuation of the zoo.

Then, an African serval cat bit a Chinese visitor who was enjoying the famed night safari's show with her four-year-old (the injury was superficial, but still, not good publicity for the Lion City's star attraction).

It was then revealed that a crocodile had punctured its keeper's leg in seven places, even leaving one tooth stuck in the keeper's calf.

Incidents at the zoo, which gets 1.2 million visitors a year, are rare. The last time a large wildcat escaped was nine years ago when a Malayan tiger had to be shot dead by zoo officials after it escaped from its enclosure at the night safari. Indeed, zoo news is usually on the happy side, like the recent births of a baby zebra and a giant red flying squirrel. Of course, zoo and night safari officials immediately announced new safety measures would be put in place, to reassure the public. The stage design of the night safari's show, in which the serval cat was walking along a tightrope above the visitors' heads, is also being reviewed.

Still, the latest developments are unlikely to frighten the locals. Many have a predilection for wild animals.

Last year, a university student was fined S$5,500 ($26,000) for keeping 22 wild and endangered animals in his flat. His mini zoo included 14 assorted snakes - seven boa constrictors, six pythons and one anaconda.

Then there was the story that a tiger and a Malayan sun bear were being illegally kept as pets in a home in the leafy Sixth Avenue vicinity after some noises were heard. Despite a S$7,000 cash reward by animal lovers, no beasts have been discovered.

Wild animals on the loose were not the zoo's only headache last week. One minister - to illustrate the need for reinventing Singapore as a tourism destination and to justify agreeing to build two integrated resorts with casinos - highlighted how the city-state's innovative 'success formulas' were being copied.

'For example, night zoos can now be found in Guangdong, Sichuan , Malacca and Cairns, with another soon to open in Chiang Mai,' the minister complained. Well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.