Both the zoo and its Night Safari offshoot, on a promontory jutting into Seletar Reservoir, are highly popular, which is partly down to their “open” philosophy: many animals are confined in spacious, naturalistic enclosures behind moats, though creatures such as big cats still have to be caged. It’s a thoughtful, humane approach that may well please even those who don’t generally care for zoos.
Home to more than 300 species, the zoo could easily occupy you for half a day if not longer. A tram ($5/$3) does a one-way circuit of the grounds, but as it won’t always be going your way, be prepared for a lot of legwork.
Highlights include the Fragile Forest biodome, a magical zone where you can actually walk among ring-tailed lemurs, sloths and fruit bats. The white tigers are a big draw too. The animals aren’t actually white, but resemble Siamese cats in the colour of their hair and eyes; at feeding time (2.20pm) great hunks of meat are thrown for them to catch in their mouths.
Primates are something of a strong point: orang-utans swing through the trees overhead close to the entrance, and at the Great Rift Valley zone you can see the communal life of a hundred Hamadryas baboons, including some rather unchivalrous behaviour on the part of males, who bite females to rein them in.
Animal shows and feeding shows run throughout the day, including the excellent Splash Safari, featuring penguins, manatees and sea lions. There are also elephant ($8) and pony ($6) rides, plus a popular water play area called Rainforest Kidzwalk (from 9.30am; bring your children’s swimming gear).