Gardens of the jaguar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2006, 12:00am

WHIle much of Central and Admiralty on Hong Kong Island is built up, there are areas that you can wander under the trees, listening to birds and enjoying the coolness of the shade.

One of these places is Hong Kong Park. But there's an area that is larger than Hong Kong Park and is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world - the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

What's to see there?

There are more than 1,000 species of plants, more than 600 birds, 70 mammals and 40 reptiles. It also has a glass-enclosed centre with a magnificent orchid-growing area.

When was it set up?

It was built in 1871 and was initially set up as the garden of the governor, later to be opened to the public. Initially it was more about plants - hence the zoological bit. The animals came later.

What sort of animals can I see there?

All sorts, including wild animals such as the jaguar, plus there's reptiles such as snakes and turtles. These include the Malaysian Giant Turtle. In the bird section, there's also the Red-crowned Crane.

Are there any statues there?

Yes, as you walk up at the entrance of the gardens on the slopes of Victoria Peak, you can see a statue of former British king George VI. The garden is divided into two areas.

There's the Old Garden - here you can see the jaguars, plus all the birds in the aviaries.

If you have some younger brothers and sisters tagging along and they get a bit bored, there's also a children's playground to entertain them.

What should I take along?

At this time of year, make sure you have plenty of water while you walk along outside, to avoid dehydration. Take a camera to photograph the jaguar and the monkeys, and other animals that you spot along the way. Give yourself plenty of time. This is a wonderful place to dawdle and admire the animals, but also some of the rare trees. For example, there's the seldom-seen Dawn Redwood. There are plaques along the way, so you'll know what you're looking at.

How come we have a park in the middle of a city? Couldn't we use the land to build real estate?

So that we can breathe clean air, it's always vital to have what are called 'green lungs' in the middle of cities, such as these botanical gardens or Hong Kong Park.

The trees absorb the carbon monoxide that is emitted by the high density of traffic and it provides an oasis in our stressful working environment for us to take a few moments to relax and enjoy nature.

What else can I see at the gardens?

Go there early in the morning and you can watch people practising tai chi. Nice way to start the day, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you wanted to join in.

Do I have to pay to get in?

No, the gardens are free.