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For Asia's Animals, it's a Jungle Out There

By SHIRLEY BRADY

There could be few more disturbing sights than feeding time at the zoo in Harbin, China. For $12, tourists can purchase a rabbit to be devoured by the Siberian tigers whose home they are visiting. Mainlanders who flock here for entertainment can also buy a pork supper for the felines, at $120 a pig. On Indonesia's Komodo Island, a raised viewing stand is all that separates spectators from the vicious monitor lizards that snap out of their lethargy and speed across the clearing as soon as a freshly killed goat is hung up for their supper. In the zoological gardens outside Ho Chi Minh City, dazed elephants swing their trunks from side to side, their feet tethered by chains and their repetitive motions betraying signs of a dementia known as "zoochosis."

What is meant to be a memorable encounter with Asia's quickly vanishing species can sometimes turn into an upsetting experience for visiting animal-lovers. Yet it doesn't have to be so. While humans have long been the primary threat to animals and their habitat, it's possible to view wildlife in a sensitive, non-exploitative manner--with the cost of the adventure contributing toward funding Asia's cash-strapped conservation efforts.

The Singapore Zoo, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is one of the world's most acclaimed sites for animal and human interaction. Housing more than 2,800 animals and 216 species, this is an "open" zoo; occupants are separated from their guests largely through a system of dry or wet moats--enabling clear viewing of the enclosures, which are replicas of the species' natural habitat. Only the more dangerous animals like leopards and jaguars are housed in landscaped, glass-fronted enclosures. The zoo has won numerous awards for its Night Safari program. Bats swoop overhead, lemurs purr and yellow eyes glow in the dark as visitors (by tram or on foot) see the animals in their more active, nocturnal state, when--as with many humans--dating and eating are the primary activities.

Another popular attraction at the Singapore Zoo is breakfast with the orangutans; visitors can hand-feed the hairy, hungry creatures for $9 ($7 for children under 12). The Fragile Forest, an exhibit opening next month, recreates the biodiversity of a rainforest setting, without the fragility of a real tropical ecosystem. Call 65-360-8597 to reserve a spot at the night or breakfast programs, and visit the website at www.zoo.com.sg for details on other activities.

A highly entertaining and educational book about endangered species, Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams, brought the British humorist into contact with Sousa chinensis, the endangered Chinese White Dolphins, which are often pink when found in Southeast Asia. Dolphinwatch offers tours of the endangered creatures' home turf in the scenic western waters of Hong Kong. Weekday cruises, which last seven hours, cost $50 (half-price for kids), with a buffet lunch served on board. Weekend tours are a little cheaper, with lunch at a Chinese restaurant. There's a good chance you'll spot some of the cheeky sea creatures (and a go-again guarantee if you don't). You'll also get a dolphin's view of Hong Kong's new airport, which is blamed by activists for damaging the habitat, as well as the impressive new Tsing Ma suspension bridge. Dolphinwatch can be reached by phoning 852-2984-1414, or online at www.zianet.com/dolphins.

Click here for additional information




Daily

October 19, 1998

MAIN FEATURE
What is meant to be a memorable encounter with Asia's quickly vanishing species can sometimes turn into an upsetting experience for visiting animal-lovers. Yet it doesn't have to be so

HOT TIP
Breaking up your trip is easy to do, especially with Malaysia Airlines' "Malaysia Stopover" deal

WEB CR@WLING
You don't have to belong to Diner's Club to take advantage of this new feature on its website, designed with the business traveler in mind

SHORT CUTS
In a recent study among U.S. business professionals, one in four executives report increased stress levels due to frequent travel for work

DETOURS
The annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Thailand, is not about healthy living, even though participants abstain from meat, alcohol, smoking and sex



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