Cover A statue of Maali, the 47-year-old elephant resident of Manila Zoo, welcomes visitors at the entrance

After a three-year hiatus, the first zoo in Asia reopens with renovated facilities, rehabilitated water sewerage system and new animals and birds for people to meet

Before 2021 ended, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso toured the newly refurbished Manila Zoo. For the first time, the public saw the revamped zoo, starting with the families of the construction workers who helped in the PhP1.7 billion project, as well as those who have been working in the zoo under the city’s Public Recreations Bureau (PRB).

Read more: Manila Zoo Sneak Peek: Netizens Rejoice as the Park Gets an Upgrade

The Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden, simply known as Manila Zoo, has been a central figure in the childhood of every Filipino, it being the staple on educational field trips or the hangout choice of families. PRB director Pio Morabe relates to this very much as he was also once a kid who loved going to the Manila Zoo.

“When I was in grade school, we’d go to Manila Zoo and have fun seeing the animals, the garden and playing there with friends,” Morabe recalls. “This is part of our heritage, just like Intramuros, Luneta and other significant spots around Manila. Generations of families have spent their time in Manila Zoo because it is a very serene and peaceful place,” he says.

At the entrance, a statue of the 47-year-old elephant Maali, the oldest resident of the zoo, welcomes visitors. Aside from a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant (STP) that treats water in seven stages, the zoo boasts elevated viewing decks around wider animal enclosures, viewing lofts for the botanical and butterfly gardens, a playground near the area for primates, separate sections of the aviary that both have enhanced enclosing spaces and walkways and refurbished sections for reptiles, hippopotamus and apex predators like lions, tigers and hyenas. Most especially, Maali’s home has been widened and the cemented flooring has been changed into hard earth.

Aside from the improvements for the animals’ welfare, the zoo was also installed with spacious powder rooms for its visitors, particularly persons with disabilities, as well as food stalls, drinking fountains, a larger parking area and lighting fixtures that will be lit until it closes at 8 pm. At the heart of the wide green spaces of the zoo is a dancing fountain that lights up in varying colours at night.

This is its first major facelift since the 5.5-hectare-wide zoo opened in 1959. One of the things that urged the local government to speed up its rehabilitation efforts was the 2019 directive from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that the zoo was a major polluter of Manila Bay and needs to have an STP. With this, the PRB decided to temporarily close the Manila Zoo.

Fortunately, the bureau stumbled across the undergraduate thesis of Kevin Siy, a BS Architecture graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, which was later improved on by his professor, architect Rogelio Caringal.


“After graduating, I posted my thesis on my social media, and two of our councillors in Manila, Jong Isip and Joel Chua, saw it,” said Siy. Asked to donate his thesis to the local government, Siy agreed and met with the mayor. “It was fulfilling and at the same time I felt so grateful for the opportunity,” he shared. “It’s always an aspiring architect’s dream to make his own drawings come to life. . . the Manila Zoo has become a big part of my childhood and seeing it fade through time urged me to make it as my thesis project. I also believe that the animals who live there deserve the best environment because this greatly influences their overall health and welfare,” Siy added.

Read more: Find Out How a College Student's Thesis Inspired the Manila Zoo's First Renovation Since Its 1959 Opening

The PRB partnered with the JT Mañosa & Associates firm through Trixie Mañosa and some consultants from Singapore to make Siy’s vision a reality.


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Above Inside the Butterfly Garden, which connects the museum and the souvenir shop

Morabe assured that the Manila Zoo has a team composed of a well-respected zoo curator, animal experts and veterinarians to ensure that the zoo’s residents are well taken care of. With regards to Maali, Morabe is confident the elephant who has surpassed the average lifetime of his kind, will continue to be in good health in her residence rather than in the wild, contrary to the criticisms of animal welfare activists.

Mayor Moreno also vowed to regularise the contractual workers of the zoo, especially those who have been serving there for decades. On top of this promise, Morabe said the PRB is also revisiting their magna carta, which should include better insurance programmes for workers because of the risks they face with their jobs.

“I am very happy that the redevelopment of the Manila Zoo became a reality,” Siy expresses. “It drastically changed the overall environment and structure of the zoo in a way that the animals would be able to move more freely.”

The PRB is eyeing March 2022 for the Manila Zoo to finish the construction of its other areas and the return of the temporarily relocated animals before it officially reopens to the public.

This story was originally published in the March 2022 issue of Tatler Philippines. Download it on Magzter for free


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