Night Safari

The Night Safari is the world’s first night zoo that allows visitors to observe nocturnal animals in a natural habitat. Designed to be experienced at night, the Night Safari is radically different from the typical zoo and nocturnal house. The idea of a night zoo was groundbreaking when it was first conceived as conventional zoos had long struggled to exhibit tropical mammals that were largely nocturnal by nature.1 Rather than an extension of the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari is actually a separate zoo, which is bigger in size and contains a wider range of animals.2 Since its opening in May 1994, the Night Safari has been highly regarded by the international zoo community. It has also become a leading icon of Singapore tourism, attracting more than 1.1 million visitors yearly.3

The land on which the Night Safari now sits originally belonged to the Public Utilities Board (PUB) but was leased to the Singapore Zoo on a long-term basis. In 1988, then executive director of the zoo Bernard Harrison received a call from PUB enquiring about the yet undeveloped area, prompting concerns that the lease would be terminated.4 Meetings and brainstorming sessions were convened to discuss ideas for redeveloping the land. Golf courses, fruit plantations, recreational facilities and a large day safari were some of the suggestions mooted. Eventually, Sri Lankan zoo consultant Lyn de Alwis conceived the idea of a night safari, which the zoo management agreed to.5 This option was favoured over others as the management was determined to embark on something markedly different.6 The popularity of experimental night tours of the Singapore Zoo in the late 1980s had further assured them of the potential of a night visitor market.7

From conception to construction. the Night Safari took seven years to complete at a cost of S$62.5 million.8 As a marketing strategy, the nocturnal zoo was initially named the Asian Night Safari with a focus on Asian species but was later renamed the Night Safari to expand the range of species that could be exhibited.9

Pioneering the world’s first night zoo proved a challenging feat as there was no existing model for the management team to learn from.10 Lighting proved to be the most challenging issue as sufficient illumination had to be provided for visitors to observe the animals without upsetting their nocturnal routine. Simon Corder, an English theatre lighting designer who specialised in outdoor sound and light theatre, was recruited for this very purpose.11 He had also been responsible for the lighting of The Phantom of the Opera musical in London.12 Corder designed the lighting at the Night Safari based on principles simulating the effect of moonlight. Lighting was projected downwards from elevated sources, while lighting colour and temperature similar to moonlight were also used.13

The Night Safari was finally opened to the public on the evening of 3 May 1994 to a largely positive reception. It was officially opened by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong three weeks later on 26 May.14 In its first year, the Night Safari received 760,000 visitors, far surpassing the 180,000 that the zoo management had anticipated.15 In addition to the existing fleet of nine trams, five more were ordered to cope with the high volume of visitors.16 In August 1995, the Night Safari welcomed its one-millionth visitor.17 By its third year of operation, annual visitor attendance hit a record 950,000.18 Today, the Night Safari hosts approximately 1.1 million visitors annually. Having established its reputation as a leading icon of Singapore tourism, the Night Safari celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 2014. Goh once again graced the occasion as guest of honour.19

The 35-hectare (0.35 sq km) Night Safari is located at 80 Mandai Lake Road, adjacent to the Singapore Zoo and Upper Seletar Reservoir. It is managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which also manages the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and River Safari. The night zoo houses over 130 animal species and more than 2,500 animal specimens.20 Singapore’s tropical climate, cool nights and a consistent sunset timing make it a suitable location to pioneer a night zoo.21

The Night Safari, which is divided into seven geographical zones, can be explored by tram or on foot. The 40-minute tram ride consists of a commentary guided tour through the geographical zones: Himalayan Foothills, Indian subcontinent, Equatorial Africa, Indo-Malayan region, Asian Riverine Forest, Nepalese River Valley and Burmese Hillside. On foot, one can explore up to four walking trails: Fishing Cat Trail, Leopard Trail, East Lodge Trail and the recently added Wallaby Trail.22

Apart from animal exhibits, visitors can also experience the more interactive Creatures of the Night show, which underwent a revamp in December 2003.23 The stars of the show are the night zoo’s animals such as the binturong, otter, serval and spotted hyena, which get a chance to display their unique characteristics and skills.24 Held at the state-of-the-art S$3-million amphitheatre, the revamped show enable the animals to give full expression to their natural instincts while combining “the appeal of a natural history programme and the excitement of a real-life drama”.25 A separate Thumbuakar performance featuring cultural dancers decked in tribal costumes greet visitors with pyrotechnic displays at the zoo’s entrance.26

Like the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari adopts an ‘open concept’ to recreate a natural environment. Rather than bars and cages, the Night Safari relies on natural barriers to contain its animals. Cattle grids, which are grille-like metal sheets with gaps wide enough to trap the legs of animals, line the entire park to restrict animal movement.27 Nettings, plants, concealed wires and water moats are also utilised as natural barriers.28 Night conditions complement this ‘open concept’ as it becomes harder to distinguish natural barriers from lush vegetation, enhancing visitor’s illusion of being in a real safari.29 The reproduction of a safari atmosphere goes hand in hand with making non-native animals feel at home. When the Night Safari first opened, 80 species of plants were shipped in for this very purpose, including the import of Borassus palms from Thailand to re-create the arid landscapes familiar to lions.30 

Conservation efforts
The Night Safari prides itself on its contribution to wildlife conservation. Of the more than 130 animal species found in the Night Safari, 38 percent are threatened.31 The Night Safari also has a track record of successfully breeding endangered species. Some examples include the Malayan tapir, the clouded leopard and the Asian elephant.32 Significantly, the births of the Sunda pangolin and the red giant flying squirrel were believed to be the first in captivity and Asia’s first in captivity respectively.33 In February 2008, the Night Safari successfully bred its 26th tapir, a noteworthy achievement given the vulnerability of the species.34 In March 2006, a S$3.6-million veterinary facility, The Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre, was unveiled to better treat and care for the night zoo’s animals.35

The Night Safari is renown among the international zoo community and has drawn delegations from the San Diego Zoo and Disneyland’s Animal Kingdom theme park looking to emulate its successful concept.36 The Night Safari has also received numerous local, regional and international awards since its inception. In its illustrious 20-year history, the night zoo has bagged the Singapore Tourism Board's Best Visitor Attraction Award 11 times.37 To date, some of the accolades accumulated by the Night Safari include:38

: ASEAN Tourism Association – Aseanta Awards For Excellence for Best New Attraction in ASAEN.
1996: Singapore Totalisator Board – Excellence for Singapore Award (inaugural awards) for the ‘open zoo’ design.
1996: STPB 11th Tourism Awards for Leisure Attraction of the Year.
: STPB 12th Tourism Awards for Leisure Attraction of the Year.
1998: Venture Asia Publishing – Meeting & Conventions Awards for Best Theme Venue Winner, Meetings & Conventions Asia Pacific Gold Award.
1999: STB 14th Tourism Awards for Leisure Attraction of the Year.
: STB 15th Tourism Awards for Leisure Attraction of the Year.
2001: Travelweekly East Innovators Awards for Top Innovator Award for a Tourist Attraction.
2003: Superbrand Award for being one of Singapore's strongest 100 brands.
2003: STB 18th Tourism Awards for Best Leisure Attraction Experience.
: STB 19th Tourism Awards for Best Leisure Attraction Experience.
2006: STB 21st Tourism Awards for Top 10 Best Family Experiences and Best Leisure Attraction Experience.
2007: 40 Jewels in ASEAN’s Crown for Best Natural and Man-made Attraction.
2007: for 10 Most Popular Experiences in Asia.
2008: 20th Annual TTG Travel Awards for Best Theme Attraction.
2008: Michelin 3-star rating.
: Singapore Experience Awards for Best Visitor Attraction Experience.
: Asian Attraction Award for Most Popular Asian Attraction, awarded by The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.  
: Singapore Experience Awards for Best Visitor Attraction Experience.
2012: Singapore Experience Awards for Best Visitor Attraction Experience.
2013: Singapore Experience Awards for Best Visitor Attraction Experience.

Despite its stellar reputation, the Night Safari has also had its fair share of controversies and crises. In September 1996, a Malayan tiger affectionately named Giggo tried to escape from its enclosure after the yard doors were accidentally left open. It had to be put down by zoo keepers to prevent its escape.39 In July 2001, an elephant handler suffered fractured ribs and a punctured lung after being gored by Chawang the bull elephant.40 In April 2005, a Chinese tourist was left with several wounds on her leg and had to be hospitalised after being attacked by a serval cat during the Creatures of the Night show.41 In July 2010, six sambar deer escaped after a tree fell on the fence of their enclosure. Five of the deer were eventually recaptured, but one subsequently succumbed to heatstroke.42 In September 2011, Night Safari’s parent company Wildlife Reserves Singapore attracted criticism for its abrupt decision to cancel its annual “Halloween Horrors” event just two weeks before it was scheduled to take place. The event had reportedly cost S$1 million to organise, and almost 1,000 tickets had already been sold.43

1988: Meetings were convened to discuss development of the land leased from the Public Utilities Board.
1991: Singapore government approved S$65 million funding, and construction of Night Safari began.
26 May 1994:  Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong officially opened the Night Safari.
Dec 1994: Five more trams were ordered to cope with unexpectedly large crowds.
Aug 1995: Night Safari welcomed its one-millionth visitor.
Oct 1996: Night Safari welcomed its two-millionth visitor.
1 Aug 2000: Singapore Zoological Gardens, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park were restructured under the common management of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.44
Jul 2002: Bernard Harrison resigned as CEO of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
Dec 2003: A new S$3-million amphitheatre was opened for Creatures of the Night show.

Nov 2005: The first giant anteater baby was born, the first while in captivity in South Asia.45
29 May 2007: Night Safari welcomed its 11-millionth visitor.46
2012: A Wallaby Trail featuring marsupials was launched.47
May 2014: Night Safari celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Aloysius Ho

1. Kirpal Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss: Bernard Harrison: The Man Behind the Singapore Zoo & the World's First Night Safari
 (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2014), 108. (Call no. RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
2. IIsa Sharp, The First 21 Years: The Singapore Zoological Gardens Story (Singapore: Singapore Zoological Gardens, 1994), 154. (Call no. RSING 590.7445957 SHA)
3. Neo Chai Chin, “Night Safari Celebrates 20th Anniversary,” Today, 21 May 2014, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss, 107.
5. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss, 108.
6. Neo, Night Safari Celebrates 20th Anniversary.”

7. Sharp, First 21 Years, 154.
8. “Night Safari ‘Playing Vital Role Wildlife Conservation’,” Straits Times, 27 May 1994, 30. (From NewspaperSG)

9. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss, 109.
10. Lin Xinyi, “Night Safari: From Trailblazer to Tourism Icon,” Straits Times, 31 May 2007, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

11. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss, 111.
16. “5 More Trams for Night Safari,” Straits Times, 8 December 1994, 25. (From NewspaperSG)

17. “Night Safari Expects Millionth Visitor Soon,” Straits Times, 12 August 1995, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss115.
19. “20 Years of Fun in the Dark with Night Safari” Wildlife Press (blog), 24 May 2014.

12. “$60M Night Zoo Opens,” Straits Times, 29 April 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

13. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss, 111.
14. Chua Mui Hoong, “Night Safari a Magical Experience, Says PM Goh,” Straits Times, 27 May 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

15. Singh, Naked Ape, Naked Boss, 115.
20. “About Night Safari,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, 2013.
21. Lin, “Trailblazer to Tourism Icon.”
22. “Night Safari: Tram Safari Experience,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, 2013.
23. Leong Pik Yin, “Now Showing: ‘Wild’ Night Life in S’pore,” Straits Times, 5 December 2003, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Creatures of the Night,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, 2013.
25. Leong, “‘Wild’ Night Life in S’pore”; Pamela Pang, “Night Safari Show to Close, for Now,” Today, 21 October 2003, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Thumbuakar Performance,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, 2013.
27. Lin, “Trailblazer to Tourism Icon.”
28. “$60M Night Zoo Opens.”
29. Sharp, First 21 Years, 155.
30. Sharp, First 21 Years, 156; “$60M Night Zoo Opens.”

31. Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, “About Night Safari.”
32. “A Rare Breed,” Today, 2 May 2008, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, “About Night Safari.”
33. Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, “About Night Safari.”
34. “Rare Breed.”
35. Lin, “Trailblazer to Tourism Icon”; “Singapore Zoo: World’s Best Rainforest Zoo,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, 2013.
36. Lin, “Trailblazer to Tourism Icon.”
37. “Park Experience,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, 2013.
38. “Awards and Accolades,” Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group. 2013.
39. Lin, “Trailblazer to Tourism Icon.”
40. “Elephant Confined after Gory Attack,” Straits Times, 31 July 2001, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Patricia Yap, “Tourist Attacked By Zoo Serval Cat,” Today, 21 April 2005, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Five Down, One to Go...,” Today, 4 August 2010, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Amanda Tan, “Halloween Nightmare,” Straits Times, 18 September 2011, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
44. “Page 33 Advertisement Column 1,” Straits Times, 15 December 2000, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “Happy Birthday,” Straits Times, 17 January 2006, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
46. Lin Xinyi, “Night Safari Scores 11-Millionth Visitor,” Straits Times, 30 May 2007, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Neo, Night Safari Celebrates 20th Anniversary.”

The information in this article is valid as of 24 June 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Nature and Environment
Places of interest
Streets and Places