For many, the Manila Zoo had been a wellspring of happy memories and wondrous knowledge about the different animals roaming our lands.
That all changed when it was declared a major pollutant of Manila Bay in 2019 and had its gates indefinitely closed for almost three years.
But after much construction and renovation, the Manila Zoo, which has been renamed to Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden, has risen from its heartbreaking state and is ready to be the go-to place for children and families eager to learn about wildlife again.
PhilSTAR L!fe had the privilege of getting an exclusive tour of the 5.5-hectare facility ahead of its grand opening on Nov. 21. Here is a sneak peek of what you can expect from the modernized and improved Manila Zoo.
Mali the 50-year-old elephant
Serving as the zoo's main attraction, Mali is the beloved Asian elephant that has been making children squeal at her humongous size for many years now.
You'd be pleased to know that the Philippines' only elephant is still doing as well as she could be in her 50 years of age and may still be healthy for a long time, as her general life span reaches up to 70 years old.
Manila Zoo tour guide Alekzssa Mirasol shared that Mali is an important part of Philippine history as she was gifted by the government of Sri Lanka to former first lady Imelda Marcos and became the first elephant to walk the grounds of the Malacañang Palace.
When you're planning to visit Mali, avoid wearing anything red as she is easily triggered by the color. According to Mirasol, this is because Mali remembers her mother being taken away by a red truck, which is what led to her hatred of the color.
Feathered beauties unique to the Philippines
The Manila Zoo also boasts several enclosures that house the beautiful and impressive creatures that roam our skies.
One familiar bird you may recognize is the ostrich, which is known for being the largest living flightless bird in the world. Despite their inability to spread their wings and fly, they make up for what they lack through their large feet, making them an extremely strong runner in the wild.
But there is something more special about the birds that can only be found in the Philippines and nowhere else in the world, which is why it is highly recommended that you check out the zoo's Philippine Endemic Bird enclosure.
This is where you can admire various feathered beauties that can be found in different parts of the country. One of which is the Philippine swamphen—a purplish-blue-bodied bird with a notable way of walking that's reminiscent of the traditional folk dance Tinikling.
Another endemic bird is the Nicobar pigeon, which is considered one of the most beautiful species of doves because of its shimmering, rainbow-like plumage.
King, the crocodile that's almost as large as Lolong
Still remember the gargantuan crocodile that made headlines in the Philippines back in 2011?
Named after a deceased local hunter who helped in the capture, Lolong instantly became the talk of the town because of his size, which measured up to 20 feet in length, earning him the title of "largest crocodile in captivity" by the Guinness World Records.
Sadly, Lolong passed away shortly after, but it looks like Manila Zoo has another reptilian goliath under its care and protection in the form of King, a freshwater crocodile measuring up to 18 feet long, making him the undisputed king of chomps.
Krisha Lopez, another one of the zoo's tour guides, said that King had been in the zoo before it closed down. He's one of the oldest reptiles in the place.
He shares his enclosure with his slightly smaller wife at the Reptile House, where many other scaly creatures reside such as reticulated pythons, spitting cobras, red iguanas, and alligator snapping turtles.
Other exhibits that you should absolutely check out in the new and improved Manila Zoo are the Butterfly Garden, the Botanical Garden, and the Apex Predator enclosure.
Starting from its Nov. 21 reopening, the zoo will welcome visitors from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., but will impose a cutoff for entry of guests at 6:00 p.m.
For the fare, residents of Manila would need to pay an entrance fee of P150 for adults and children and P100 for students. Non-residents, meanwhile, will be charged P300 for adults and children and P200 for students.
According to its guidelines, some reminders that you need to keep in mind are to observe safety protocols to combat COVID-19 and to avoid subjecting the animals to stress. The zoo will only be accepting online booking of tickets through its website starting Nov. 20.