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Manila Zoo: The Heart of the Concrete Jungle

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.


Photo by Santino del Castillo

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.

Photo by Santino del Castillo

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.

Photo by Santino Del Castillo

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.

Photo by Diwata Mendoza

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.

Photo by Santino del Castillo

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.

Photo by Jeanette Luya

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! 🙂


And all I needed was a dog.

I come from a family of pet-lovers. My mom and her brother used to tell us stories about their dogs, and how much they loved each. If I am not mistaken, the Ilagans housed 13 dogs before. I just could not imagine how I would be able to move around our place if until today we still have the 13 mutts as pets.

In reality though, I am scared of dogs. Whenever we walk going to the church, I bite my tongue in the belief that a stray dog would not get near me. I am not so sure who told me that practice, but me and my sister used to do that all the time. Well, at least if there is a dog along the way. Too much exposure to Resident Evil I suppose. We don’t want to be infected with rabies now, do we?

The only way to get over your fear is to face fear itself. Call it courage, I gave in to what my dad wanted. One overseas call changed everything – he informed me that his cousin was selling a shih tzu puppy, and that he was going to buy it for us. Since puppies are just the cutest living creatures, I gave in and gladly informed the rest of the family about it. A few weeks later, a new member of the family was welcomed.

say hello to ratsky. he loves to take long walks in the church patio.

Ratsky was the darling of the crowd. He grew to be very sweet, and spoiled at the same time. Stubborn breed shih tzus are, Ratsky always wanted to be the center of attention. You never expect him to bark even if you play rough with him. He does things his way, and he does not want to be disturbed when sleeping. Ratsky always waited for me in going to bed, and he slept with me almost every night. I kinda miss him, since I was used to his good night kisses before dozing off.

Ratsky, though he is a dog, needed to have a partner for life as well. Perfect timing surprised me and my grandmother one lazy afternoon, when my cousin’s boyfriend then rang and asked if I was interested to buy a female shih tzu pup, for a very cheap price. Cheap indeed – my grandma accepted the bargain and bought the dog for only P2000. Apparently, the seller needed easy money to buy his kid’s school supplies and textbooks. So we said goodbye to the P2000 (well it was grandma who actually cashed out the money) and waved hello to a new addition to our growing family.

tanya's a toughie. she can wrestle with a labrador and find her way out of the fight easily.

I find the name “Tanya” enigmatic. But there is nothing enigmatic about this dog. In fact, I consider her as my worst enemy. She chewed the frame of my eyeglasses before, and I was using them for only two short months. I don’t think she’s a pure breed. With the kind of attitude she has, I would like to conclude that the spirit of a Jack Russell and a French Bulldog possess her fragile body. Ironic this is, Tanya with a fragile-looking body, but wait ’til you see her when she runs amok! 🙂

Eventually, Ratsky and Tanya had their own lot – Tara, Tala, Prince and Bonita. Tara was given to a family friend; Tala stayed with us at home and afterward was given to my relatives in Zambales; Prince was left with us also, and Bonita had a short-lived stay with my cousins – she somehow escaped and never came back.

Prince was a favorite, since he is the only male puppy, and he really took after his father. They have the same color, as all female pups sported their mom’s exact color as well. When Tanya gave birth, I made it clear with everyone in the house that the male baby is mine. I was not there in Quezon City the day Tanya labored and “pooped” the babies out.

call me a drama queen, but prince is just gone too soon. 😥

Prince was named after the Korean TV series, “The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince”. I was at the height of my Gong Yoo-madness then, that I even named the dog Prince despite my family’s strong objections. He was the naughtiest dog we ever laid eyes on – too hyper, always on the go, attention-seeker. Weird this may sound, but I am positive that Prince has ADHD. But I have never heard of animals being diagnosed with human personality disorders.

Despite Prince’s disturbing movements, he was very affectionate. He knows when someone is sick, or if someone needs some caring. Though I did not get to see him everyday, my home visits were made memorable thanks to Prince.

But he had to go. Maintaining four dogs in a not-so-big place is quite a hassle. So we handed over Prince to a family friend. Prince brought joy to his foster family, and we were just so glad that Prince was able to adjust right away.

the prince and his meal

Last Saturday, Prince died due to dehydration. The vet even said that his poo had blood in it. The news broke our hearts, as well as the hearts of his foster family. Call me a drama queen, but I think he was just gone too soon. The moment I saw the message from her foster mom, I felt as if there was a big lump in my throat which I could not swallow. Okay, cut the drama short, I cried. How could a strong, fit and active dog just die that quickly? I am not blaming his foster family, because I know they took care of him well. Then again, I cannot help but wonder how fast his passing was.

If you have watched the film Hatchiko with Richard Gere as the lead, you would probably understand how I felt and am still feeling right now. Losing a dog is like losing your most trusted and loyal friend. Science may never explain completely the relationship between man and his dog, because the bond is more of like a natural course that takes place once a man bonds easily with his pet.

Prince will be surely missed by us, and by his foster family too. I know that he is in a much happier place right now – where there is probably an unlimited supply of his favorite dog food, and where all the good times a dog could have roll.

There are life lessons which only a dog could teach us.

One of the best thing I have learned from my bebes?

Life is very short. Do not hold on to a grudge for so long.

There were times when I got pissed with Prince so much, to the point where I had to throw one of my slippers at him to chase him away. But after a few minutes, here comes Prince with the slipper I threw. He gave the slipper to me and even asked for a pat on the head. In return of the pat, he gave me a wet kiss on the cheek.

Love would always overshadow whatever anger you hold in your heart.

How I wish though it would be the same for us humans, to forgive right away, that is.

Significant or not, life is just a breath away. There is nothing wrong with being honest with our feelings.

“I may be upset, but hey, I still love you.”

Prince taught me that.

A dog taught me a life lesson.

Beat that. =)

journey well, prince. imma miss you! =)

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