Special eating habits of Singapore's international guests

Special eating habits of Singapore's international guests

The koalas from Australia will be here for six months. But what would it take for them to take up permanent residence? Channel NewsAsia takes a trip on the wild side to find out why we can keep some animals, but not others.

SINGAPORE: The Republic’s animal enclosures keep a variety of animals from all over the world. The Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) goes through special measures to ensure these overseas guests feel at home here.

Wild pangolins, for example, eat ants and termites, but at the Night Safari, they have a special menu that recreates their natural high-protein diet. It consists of mealworms, minced beef, hen eggs and various vitamins and supplements which are blended together and topped with ant eggs.

singapore pangolin

A pangolin at the Night Safari (Photo: Chan Luo Er)

Food preparation takes zookeepers almost two hours every other day, when the pangolins feed.

WRS says diets for captive animals are constantly evolving. Previous versions of the pangolins' diet included ingredients such as horse meat and avocados.

River Safari's 12 manatees eat a total of 250 kilogrammes of garden vegetables daily, in place of sea plants. Among them are the Chinese cabbage, kang kong and xiao bai cai. They also get high-fibre biscuits with vitamins and supplements.


Manatees at the River Safari (Photo: WRS)

However, WRS says not all animals can survive on captive diets, as it depends on their adaptability and physiology. For animals that cannot adapt their diets, WRS goes to great lengths to ensure a steady food supply.

"Many of the leaves that the monkeys require are quite special,” said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer at WRS. “These are not so readily available in big numbers. To ensure ready supply, we need to plant these either in plantations or all around our parks. Wherever we can find empty spots, we will plant these plants. They act as part of the landscaping, but also something that our keepers can harvest for the animals' food as well."

WRS harvests 300 kilogrammes of leaves daily on site and at a plantation at Lim Chu Kang for the zoo's monkeys.

Pandas, on the other hand, eat bamboo. To feed the black and white envoys from China, which are here on a 10-year loan, four species of the plant have been cultivated across Mandai's parks. This is enough to provide for the pandas during their stay.

Jia Jia eating

River Safari's Jia Jia the panda (Photo: Goh Chiew Tong)

As Singapore welcomes koalas from Australia, some are wondering if they can be a more permanent fixture.

"If we do not have a sustainable supply, whether from overseas or regionally or locally, then we will not be able to keep them,” said Dr Cheng. “It is a condition set by the Australian government that we must have one thousand trees per koala."

Idalia koala sg zoo

Idalia the koala at the Singapore Zoo. (Photo: WRS)

Trees for four koalas will require land of about five hectares, which is about the size of six football fields. At least four years will be needed for the eucalyptus saplings to become a sustainable source of food. Currently, eucalyptus leaves are flown here twice weekly by Qantas.

Dr Cheng added that zoos overseas have tried to create a captive diet for koalas, but were unsuccessful.

"They tried to make some sort of captive diet for the koalas to find out if the koalas would eat not fresh eucalyptus leaves, like dried-up eucalyptus biscuits, but I think it turned out to be not very successful," he said.

Until WRS can get a steady source of food for the koalas, it seems keeping them on our shores is mission impossible.

Source: CNA/ek