Singapore, 14 March 2012Singapore Zoo is going digital with Education@zoo, a new iPhone application (app) which is a handy education guide that complements one’s zoo visit with rich multimedia contents and interesting facts of animals. The joint effort by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Fajar Secondary School and Nanyang Polytechnic even features an Augmented Reality function which shows users the direction and distance to attractions and amenities, and a Learning Journey to learn and test one’s animal knowledge.

Fajar Secondary School approached WRS with the idea early last year as the school wanted to work on an iPhone app project outside of the classroom that would involve the entire Secondary 1 cohort. Education@zoo app is closely linked to the lower secondary science syllabus on ecology in which the students did research to gather data such as the animals’ natural habitat, adaptation, diet, food chain, endangered status and conservation efforts through a problem-based learning (PBL) pedagogical approach.

The students were also exposed to talks on conservation issues and underwent training to equip them with guiding skills as part of the social learning experience.

Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Information Technology was roped in as Fajar’s partner institution to design and develop the app as they had worked together on other projects to further enhance students’ learning prior to this collaboration.

The project is the first of its kind to have been awarded a Ministry of Education grant that involves a third party. The grant was used to purchase eight iPads and six iPhones for the school to begin their project. It also funded the expertise engaged to develop the app.

App users also have access to an interactive map, visitor information, performances and show timings, enrichment facts and videos of animals and Singapore Zoo’s monthly newsletter, Wildlife Times.

“WRS is always keen to partner with schools to promote conservation education. This initiative empowers the students to contribute to generate conservation awareness for nature conservation. It also provides them with valuable learning and social experiences. Through this creative learning platform, we also hope to inspire increasingly technology-savvy visitors and families to be excited about wildlife and conservation,” said Ms May Lok, Director, Education, WRS.

“The development of the iPhone and iPad app not only increases the students’ motivation to learn science beyond the classroom context but also increases their awareness of conservation and the important role Singapore Zoo plays in it. The students’ learning of Ecology through PBL is authentic and the research that they have done on the different types of animals in the zoo is consolidated and made into a real life application that is useful to both the students and the public,” said Mr Mohamed Faizal, Level Head Science, Fajar Secondary School.

The app was officially launched during the Fajar@Zoo Appmazing Race at Singapore Zoo this morning. Students from Macpherson Primary School whizzed around the wildlife park, scrambling to complete a circuit of stations using this app.

Education@Zoo is the Top #1 featured education app in app store in Mar 2012. iPhone users can download it from the app store. It will be available for at least two years.

A Fajar Secondary student accesses the interactive map function on the Education@Zoo iPhone app, to navigate to the next station during the Fajar@Zoo Appmazing Race. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE
Students from Fajar Secondary School guide their Macpherson Primary buddies to the correct answers, using the Education@Zoo iPhone app. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE
Macpherson Primary students engage with the Education@Zoo app while their Fajar Secondary School guides look on. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE


The amazing Naked Mole Rate

The naked mole rat is one of only two mammals known to be eusocial – they live like bees with one queen, a few breeding males, and a largely sterile colony that function as workers. A colony can have as many as 300 members.

Queens live from 13 to 18 years, and are extremely hostile to other females behaving like queens, or who produce hormones for becoming queens. When the queen dies, another female takes her place, sometimes after a violent struggle with her competitors.

Once established, the new queen undergoes a remarkable transformation that sees her grow much bigger and ready to bear pups. During her reproductive state, the queen actually grows much longer by stretching the space between the vertebrae in her backbone. This allows her to hold her developing babies, which can number as many as 20 per litter. No other mammal is known to do this upon reaching maturity.

In a study, it was found that normal human and mouse cells would grow and divide until they mash tightly against one another in a single, dense layer—a mechanism known as “contact inhibition.” But naked mole rat cells stop growing as soon as they touch, which means that they can never form tumours.

Another fascinating fact about naked mole rats is that they do not feel pain! This is because their bodies do not produce a chemical known as substance P, which is a neurotransmitter that sends pain messages to the central nervous system. This is especially helpful since they spend most of their lives underground where they are exposed to acidic soil conditions. Scientists hope that further research will lead to new discoveries of pain management in humans.



Singapore, 8 March 2012 — This International Women’s Day, Singapore Zoo pays tribute to the fairer sex, albeit not of the two-legged kind. Of particular interest is female Sumatran orang utan Chomel who, following in her famed grandmother Ah Meng’s footsteps, is caring for an orang utan baby that is not her own.

Although a first time mother, Chomel has always shown nurturing qualities. In her younger days, she would often be seen helping the younger orang utans navigate the free-ranging areas with ease, teaching them how to test their weight on the branches before moving ahead. She thus became a natural choice for surrogate mother, when keepers made the decision to remove the baby from her mother Sayang, who was gravely ill. Incidentally, Sayang is Chomel’s aunt, which means Chomel is fostering her cousin.

“When we took the baby away, Chomel was outside Sayang’s den. The baby cried as it had never been away from its mother, and Chomel’s instinct was to immediately reach for her. We cautiously gave the baby to her, and she held her close. That’s when we knew things would be okay,” explained Alagappasamy Chellaiyah, Assistant Director, Zoology, Singapore Zoo.

“Like Ah Meng, after a few days of fostering, Chomel actually started to show more loving care to her foster child. During feeding, if the baby cries, she quickly offers the food she is eating. During interactions with visitors, she happily allows Bino, her own son, to explore on his own while holding the adopted one close to her. This is truly a heartening sight to witness, and it almost feels like Ah Meng is back with us” continued Mr Chellaiyah, who was Ah Meng’s primary caretaker during her residence in the Zoo.

Chomel bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, whose name was synonymous with Singapore Zoo for almost 35 years before she passed on of old age in Feb 2008. Ah Meng too cared for two young orang utans whose mothers were unable to look after them; Anita, a Bornean female still residing here, and a Bornean male called Inoki which now lives in Taiping Zoo, Malaysia.

To mark International Women’s Day the Zoo held a private naming ceremony for the baby, which turns one today. She has been christened Ishta, which means the cherished or desired one.

“International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s and celebrates the achievements of women everywhere. Chomel is certainly one of our inspiring females and Singapore Zoo wanted to pay tribute to her this momentous day. It’s made doubly special as it also happens to be Ishta’s birthday” said Isabel Cheng, Director, Marketing and Communications, Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Sumatran orang utans are critically endangered and wild populations are said to number fewer than 7,000 individuals. Their Bornean cousins are also considered endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Most recent estimates place their numbers at about 50,000.

Singapore Zoo, home to 26 orang utans, has an excellent worldwide reputation of having the largest group of captive orang utans in a social setting which also features the world’s only free-ranging habitat. It contributes to the conservation of Asia’s only great ape through captive breeding. A total of 37 orang utans have been successfully bred since the Zoo opened in 1973. Of these, some have been sent to various zoos in Malaysia, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka as part of a global exchange program me.

Chomel proudly shows off her babies: Bino, her own son, relaxes on his mother’s right arm, while adopted female Ishta clings comfortably to her left. PHOTO CREDITS: Wildlife Reserves Singapore
Portrait of a loving mother: Chomel, with Bino on her shoulder and Ishta cuddled in her embracing arms. PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE



Singapore, 7 March 2012 – They are hairless, buck-toothed and very nearly blind. Pick one of these creatures up and you’ll realise that they smell really bad. It’s probably from all the rolling about in their own fecal matter so they’ll smell like one big happy family. Smelly or not, scientists believe that naked mole rats’ genetic material holds the secret to a long life – they can live over 20 years, almost eight times longer than mice.

These little rodents, only one of two mammals known to have a social structure similar to social insects, now have a huge exhibit all to themselves—Singapore Zoo’s first foray into showcasing such little creatures on a comparatively large scale.

Wrinkled “sausages” with teeth: Naked mole rats have lips that close behind the teeth. This way, they don’t end up with a mouthful of dirt when digging and burrowing!

The exhibit mimics their system of burrows in the wild in order to provide a naturalistic environment for them. Naked mole rats have burrow systems extending up to 4.8 kilometres long in the wild and covering an area as big as six football fields.

Singapore Zoo’s exhibit, measuring 50 square metres, is a scaled-down version of their complex living environment. Constructed with steel and concrete, it also has glass-fronted panels for visitors to view the naked mole rats at work and play. Lighting is kept dim, as these creatures are used to living in dark environments.

Tunnel vision: Guests peering at the naked mole rats in their ‘natural’ home!
Did you know the tunnels are actually completely man-made! This is how the intricate system of tunnels looks like from the back of house area.

To facilitate convenient cleaning, two identical sets of burrow systems were constructed. Each set is washed and switched every month, then lined with pine shavings to keep them clean and relatively odourless. It is hard work, as the components of the exhibit are extremely sturdy – a necessary defense against the strong teeth of these rats. Unfortunately, these little creatures seem to possess superhuman strength, and have already managed to make dents in some of the concrete components, much to the dismay of their keepers!

Though only recently opened, the naked mole rat exhibit is already a popular spot for curious visitors

An interactive element was also added – a pint-sized tunnel for children to crawl through and imagine a day in the life of a naked mole rat. Periscopes and child-friendly interpretive and activity panels complete the educational component of this exhibit.

Mind your head, for these tunnels are made for little humans only

“Having such an accessible and engaging exhibit allows us to observe the behaviour of these fascinating critters closely, as such animals cannot be studied so easily in the wild. Singapore Zoo hopes to be able to contribute to the education and research of this species, and at the same time introduce the lesser-known wonders of nature to our guests,” said Dr Sonja Luz, Director, Conservation, Research and Learning Centre, Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Come visit and learn more about the naked mole rat at Singapore Zoo today! If these little creatures end up contributing to longer lives for all of us one day, you can tell everyone you saw them first at our Zoo!

Note: Daily feeding sessions are held at 11.30am



Nalo's Tale

Singapore, 1 March 2012 – For the first time, the Night Safari has launched a blog site to highlight the development of its latest tallest addition – a two-month-old baby giraffe named “Nalo”.

Visitors can now visit to watch the progress of the male calf as keepers provide an exclusive look at animal husbandry and care at the world’s first nocturnal zoo. Titled “Nalo’s Tales: Adventures of Night Safari’s Tallest Baby,” the blog will record several of the calf’s first experiences, including his debut in the exhibit, as well as his first solid meal. The blog includes photos, videos and keeper interviews, and is updated weekly.

The baby giraffe will also be making his public ‘appearance’ in a 2.1m-tall baby pram – possibly the tallest in Singapore – at the heart of Orchard Road this Saturday, 3 March 2012, between 12pm to 4.30pm. Shoppers will get to see a replica of the baby giraffe strolling down the shopping district in a pram specially designed for the lanky newborn.

Visitors who wish to meet Nalo in real life can do so by participating in an online contest – “Guess Nalo’s Height” – where winners can win tickets to the Night Safari by guessing Nalo’s latest height on the blog.

Nalo, which means “lovable” in Swahili, is the first giraffe to be born in the Night Safari in three years. Born on December 5 last year, the baby giraffe can now be seen in the exhibit together with his family at Night Safari’s African zone. For more information, visit