When you are driving through the roads of the Subic Freeport Zone, it's not unusual to see monkeys crossing the road. It's also not unusual to see small groups of people nearby, trying to snap photos of the monkeys or occasionally trying to feed it or touch it. When I see things like that, I usually think these people must be crazy.
Boy am I a hypocrite. Those wild monkeys are like kittens compared to some of the animals we got close to at Zoobic Safari.
Here we all are at Zoobic's entrance, ready for an exciting adventure. And what an adventure it was! At almost every attraction, we found ourselves saying, These people are absolutely NUTS. This would be completely illegal in any other part of the world!! Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, we were all just amazed (and grateful) that no accidents (like the recent one at the SF Zoo) have happened so far.
The insanity began while waiting for our tour guide. We spotted this tiger in the waiting area, along with a sign saying you can pay to have your photo taken with the tiger sitting on your lap. Now, this tiger did not look full-grown yet, and was so listless that I suspect he may have been drugged, but still -- think of Siegfried and Roy. We decided to pass on that one.
The first stop on our 3-hour tour was the Zoobic Park, a petting zoo containing many of the usual animals such as ducks, goats, miniature horses and camels., mixed in with more exotic species such as the mouse-deer, tarsier monkey, bearcat, and albino carabao.
I must admit, though, that I have never been to a petting zoo with monkeys and porcupines and wild boars before; they're not the kind of animals you'd want your kids petting. And only in the Philippines would a petting zoo include a cassowary, listed in the Guinness' Book of World Records as the world's most dangerous bird. OK, yes, the bird was behind a chicken-wire fence, but hey, if the creature can crush a human skull with one whack of its head or kick of its foot, that fence ain't gonna do much good.
I would say that the highlight of the tour came when we boarded a safari jeep and drove through a tiger enclosure. Note the safety features of this jeep in the photo below: the only thing between us and the tigers was a series of doors made of what looked like reinforced chicken wire. To make things more interesting, we paid P100 for the privilege of feeding the tigers some raw chicken for lunch.
Once we entered the tiger enclosure, our guide, who was sitting in the back with us, took out the chicken and dangled it outside a little trapdoor in the wire grill.
A couple of tigers caught the whiff of raw meat, came up to the window, and began eating the chicken right out of the guy's hands!
After a while, the guide threw what was left of the chicken up on the roof, and surprise, surprise, the tigers followed. We exited the with the tigers running, hot on our heels. (Tip: if you want to do this, make sure you begin your tour earlier in the day, when the tigers are still hungry. Apparently by the end of the day, they've been fed so many chickens that they are content to sit and stare).
Next up, a train ride through The Savannah, an area with all sorts of wildlife such as wild boars and ostriches.
Again, we were struck by the proximity of the animals and the lack of safety precautions. That ostrich could easily have bounded over and pecked my nosy-tourist eyes out. Or maybe they consider the brightly-colored train to be some sort of dangerous animal and are happy to stay away.
Halfway through the train ride, we had another Close Encounter with tigers. We stopped and walked through a small building with half a dozen tiger cages. We were literally inches away from the cages. I can easily imagine an unruly child sticking his fingers through the mesh. One tiger was prowling around his cage; I remember looking into his eyes and feeling a deep and primal fear. We were no longer in some fast-moving jeep, we were on his turf now. It was like I was being hunted. I had no doubt he could hurl his body against the mesh, dent it, snap some wires and tear my throat out.
After hopping on some tree stumps in an area filled with giant monitor lizards (bayawak), we were treated to an Aeta cultural performance. The Aeta (pronounced "eye-ta"), a tribe of indigenous people in the Subic area, did some native dances that mimic the animals in the forest, including a monkey dance where the guy climbs up a tree as though we were strolling up a hill.
Later, the kids got to pose with them and play with their weapons.
The last major attraction was a pit with about 200 crocodiles in it. When left alone, these crocodiles seemed to enjoy basking in the sun, or swimming lazily around, or crawling slowly up the sloping sides of the pit. But dangle a chicken leg above their pit (for an extra P100), and watch how quickly they move then.....
What a day! And what a steal. The weekday admission price of P295 got us into the park and includes a 3-hour guided tour of the whole complex. We paid an extra P100 to ride their safari jeepney and train through the Tiger Encounter and Savannah areas -- well worth it to avoid the hassle of driving through these areas in our own vehicles and having to strap our kids in and out of their seats each time (besides, the kids preferred the brightly-decorated jeepneys and trains anyway). Well worth it for half a day of crazy experiences and incredible fun.
In the end, all we could say was, Thank God we got to do this, because the next time we visit, Zoobic may very well be shut down (though I certainly hope not). Let me put it another way:
Admission to Zoobic Safari -- $7.40
Safari Jeepney ride through Tiger Encounter -- $2.50
Train ride through Savannah -- $2.50
Half a raw chicken to feed crocodiles -- $2.50
Whole raw chicken to feed tigers -- $5.00
Getting tiger saliva sprayed in your face: Priceless