One of the best perks of being a teacher? You get to go on field trips. Well, the excitement is relived only if you are the type who shouts on top of your lungs when the teacher announces that your class will be going out.
I always looked forward to school excursions, but was not that fortunate enough to join such when I was still a grader. Much oriented that I was of the “Don’t ask” policy, I just let my parents talk to my class adviser and explain why I would not be able to join. Well of course, there were exceptions. I was allowed to take part of the trip only if the venue was near our place. “Killjoy” was an abused word in my vocabulary that time.
As we grow older, things do change. Time is on my side now.
For three years in a row already, I have been religiously joining the field trips in our school. There is no question that teachers are required to accompany their students in an occasion like this. Thankfully, I am someone who gets really giddy and hyper when going on trips – even if it meant having naughty little boys and girls for company.
Late last year, our students from the SpEd Department had their first-ever out of the campus tour. Teacher Marielle and I considered it as a very big risk: bringing the kids (together with their parents) to Manila for a field trip. Our target was to have our initial excursion in Tagaytay only. The mommies and daddies on the other hand did not like the idea that much, since they regarded Tagaytay as a very ordinary “pasyalan” place to go to.
Thinking that we were doomed already, I gave in to my least-considered idea: bring the kids to Manila Zoo.
My co-teachers and I were confident enough to let these “special children” experience the kind of childhood we had years ago.
In the early 90s, every citizen in this country knows that Manila Zoo is one of the “happy places” for children, just like how people regarded Fiesta Carnival and Boom na Boom to be “fantasy islands”.
We practically braced ourselves on what we might see once we get to the zoo, since I have personally heard that the “heart of the concrete jungle city of Manila” was not so great anymore. In fact, closure is rumored to face the operations of the zoo.
Though I cannot completely tell you in details what happened when I last visited Manila Zoo, I could say that the place is still pretty neat. And boy, there were also lots of students from other schools.
The number of animals kept inside were still enough for the place to be called a “zoo”, as long as you do not compare it with today’s Ark Avilon and Avilon Zoo.
Despite PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) call for the release of the elephant in the picture, Manila Zoo is still proud to have Mali (Vishwamali) as one of its attractions. Mali is one of the two animals (the other one is the giraffe, who eventually died) I vividly remember from my childhood visits, thanks to the old pictures. Seeing Mali however kinda worried me because I think her living space is just too undersized. Well maybe having isolated there for years, she must have learned how to adjust well. After all, I don’t think she has a choice.
One thing that makes Manila Zoo famous until now is its big collection of birds. It houses 13 types of birds, and some species even undergo behavior therapy to relieve and combat the stress and boredom of living in captivity. During our visit, I asked one zookeeper why the birds needed behavior modification therapy.
He explained that when boredom strikes, birds could really turn wild. What makes matters worse are the unruly visitors who keep on hand-feeding these species with junk food and candies.
The colorful costumes of the birds however did not have a great impact on my students. They were more interested in the fierce animals – tiger, lion and snakes.
The monkeys in Manila Zoo, as expected, were noisy and wild. Their screams echoed in the zoo’s open environment, and it somehow irritated us. Seeing them move in a limited place made me recall my visit to Palawan. In the Underground Cave Tour, the eating area for the tourists allowed monkeys and monitor lizards to move everywhere and anywhere.
Taking my mind back to the monkeys in Manila Zoo, I have realized who had the better fate.
If you happen to be a teacher of special needs kids, having them enumerate the different animals which they have seen should not be your main priority. Yes, it will definitely be a bonus if they will be able to name at least half of what is in Manila Zoo; but what the main concern should be their engagement and being one with the environment they are in at that specific time. Some of my students got bored, some enjoyed; some got too engrossed, that we had to scout all areas in the zoo just to find where they were.
You can also find cheap novelty items in the zoo, but I thought that the stalls selling inside were just too many. I imagined that on peak days, it would be hard for people to choose what they want because the stalls would most likely be flocked and crowded. I found one student of mine doing silly tricks with the puppet he bought in one of the gift shops. Showing boredom on his face, he said that he wanted to go where the “Sssss..” and the “Rawr!” are. I promised him that after lunch, we would go to the place where the real action was. Unfortunately, we only got to visit the reptile room.
The reptile room showcased Manila Zoo’s collection of snakes from different places. The snakes’ vibrant colors of green, yellow, coral and red greeted people by the entrance, as if inviting us to take a peek at their scaly bodies.
The funny thing is that the snakes in Manila Zoo seem to look like they are all overweight. Too bad I was not able to inquire how often are these slimy crawlers fed.
Manila Zoo was a big part of my childhood. Together with my sister and other relatives, we would go here and have picnics on Sundays, just like what other families do. Seeing the place again after all these years resurrected so many memories. The rumor of having it closed down, which continues to make noise up to these days, is just heartbreaking.
Since 2007, PETA has been calling for the closure of the zoo. It was very much evident then that there were major issues the Manila Zoo Administration should take care of – treatment of animals; their cages that are worn out already, living spaces being too small; proper garbage disposal and more. Though Mayor Alfred Lim announced before that this famous city landmark for over 52 years would not be closed down, people should not be complacent and should not stop caring for the animals. Being the first zoo ever built in Asia, our government should take pride of it by further developing the facilities and intensifying the health care provided to the animals. We cannot afford to lose the place which once made our country stand out from the rest of the Asian nations.
As I saw appreciation on the faces of my students, I know I have shared to them a piece of my life when I was still a child. Manila Zoo would always be associated to the happy days of a growing kid – it is kinda true that when you have not been to Manila Zoo yet, you miss half of your life.
If the place drew smiles of excitement and joy on the newbies, nostalgia on the other hand blushed across my cheeks. It was nice to be back to Manila Zoo once more and see the animals from my past. For a day, I got to be a 4-year old kid again.
They say that when you learn to love a place, that is the best time to leave it.
One thing is for sure: I still love Manila Zoo after all.
And I’m not ready to say goodbye to it yet. 🙂
Words and pictures can work together to communicate more powerfully than either alone. My heartfelt thanks to Santino del Castillo, Diwata Mendoza and Jeanette Luya for the awesome pictures! 🙂