Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Avilon Zoo - Big mammals

Pardon the title but this is the result of an ongoing private joke with D2. Our tour guide @ Avilon Zoo made "big mammals" sound like "big mama" hence the unusual-sounding title. Saturday found us making a much-anticipated trip to Avilon, a 7.5 hectare zoo, 75% completed, located in Montalban, roughly 2 hours drive from Makati.

JUST 2 OR SO HOURS AWAY - Left makati around 7-7.30 and after rounding up the other CentralCircle members, we got to Avilon around 9.30am, just in time for the 10am guided tour. Marife, our twentysomething tour guide, met us at the pavilion near the pond at the entrance. One can pass away the time while waiting for the tour to begin, looking out to the opposite pond where swans and ducks casually float around, unmindful of the swelling number of would-be tour participants.

PIGS, BIRDS & PYTHONS - First stop: pigs and boars, almost all of which are endemic to the Philippines. Next: interesting, flightless birds, including the emu. This was followed by a huge area devoted to flying birds, from small tame ones to eagles which, just by the appearance of their talons, can easily make one part of their dinner menu. The interactive part of the tour is very interesting: one can have a picture taken with a 5-6 footer albino python on one's shoulder; getting up close to the macaws or the small monkey; or having a picture taken with an owl or that rather friendly eagle perched on your hand.

SNAKES, SPIDERS, BIG MAMMALS - Then, there's the snakes and spiders area. Not my favorite part at all but interesting and surprisingly, well-maintained. After a brief respite for hotdog and dirty ice cream break, it's off to the playful orangutans, a restless leopard and a sleepy tiger. Moving on, we next head to more birds including the cute-as-stuffed-toys pelicans. Then, the rather friendly ostriches and menacing-looking alligators. And oh, I nearly forgot, an area for turtles, including a 57-year old snapping turtle.

All in all, an interesting trip - under 3 hours and with a travel time of less than 2 hours. I was amazed by how clean and orderly the place is. One caveat though: there should be more information posted in each pen or area so we can take the tour even without a guide and come out of it learning a lot of new things. Tour guides are just human, they can err or underperform given a particular day or mood. But this place is a nice way to learn about animals and the environment, not just for kids but also for us adults. I learned from B2 that Avilon is a private undertaking. Wow, I commend the owners for their efforts, it's not a joke to open and maintain a zoo. I'm just hoping they can get funding from the private sector, much in the same way it's done in other places like Singapore, to help defray costs and keep the place in tip-top shape.

PLANNING TO GO?  We were lucky to have taken the morning tour as it can get really hot by the time noon sets in. If you're planning to go, bring sunblock, insect repellent, cap or hat, a flask of water and camera. Entrance fee is P200/person or around US$4.00 • Tour hours 8/9/10 am; 1/2/3 pm • Address: Barrio San Isidro, Rodriguez, Montalban, Rizal • 634-5550

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