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Night Safari celebrates 20th anniversary

Singapore's Night Safari, the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.

A new regal pair of big cats has been greeting visitors to the Night Safari since last month.

White lions Sipho and Mandisa – whose names mean “gift” and “sweet”, respectively – were born in a safari park in China and arrived in Singapore about six months ago, together with three Asiatic black bears, after the Night Safari traded a Malayan tapir for them.

The lions are the latest additions to the Night Safari – the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals – which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.

“It makes sense in the Night Safari to have something light-coloured,” quipped assistant zoology director Subash Chandran, noting that it is a challenge to display animals that are dark in colour, such as the bearcat.

The S$63 million attraction opened in 1994 and has grown in various ways since then. From fewer than 100 species and 700 animals, it now boasts about 130 species and 2,300 animals. And from 800,000 visitors in its first year, the 35ha park now welcomes about 1.1 million visitors, mainly tourists, yearly.

The team is aware of the competition from new tourist attractions that have sprouted here in recent years, as well as other night safari parks in the region. While they have not seen the need for drastic change, the management is constantly thinking of new ideas, said Mr Subash.

For instance, a new Wallaby Trail was launched in 2012 featuring marsupials such as the Bennett’s wallaby. Food and beverage options were also expanded; with more guests from India of late, more vegetarian food options have been added.

Future improvements include a new tram station for visitors as well as an extension of the shelter at the entrance for more rainy-day activities.

The Night Safari site was initially unused land on reserve after the Singapore Zoo was built, said Mr Subash. When a deadline loomed for the land to be taken back by the PUB, the management started brainstorming ideas. Between a butterfly park and a Night Safari, they chose the latter to break new ground and not copy what others had been doing, he said.

The past 20 years have not been without challenges. In 1996, a Malayan tiger was shot dead after it escaped through a set of doors left open. The Night Safari subsequently put in place stricter checks, such as a buddy system for animal keepers handling dangerous animals.

Mr Melvin Tan – Night Safari general manager and a landscape architect by training, who was behind the landscaping of all four Wildlife Reserves Singapore parks, including the Jurong Bird Park and the zoo – said that, compared with the zoo, the Night Safari is more intimate and plays on ambience, mood and mystery. “Our senses are altered at night,” he explained. “You have to come here to savour it, experience it. No words can describe what (the Night Safari) is like.”

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