30 July 2014

Miri Crocodile Farm

The Crocodile farm is about 25km out of town near the Brunei Border and is touted as one of the City tourist attractions.  Our son is fascinated by crocodiles and reptilians and was desperate to visit. While there are many other more enticing opportunities in the area (lush rainforest, stunning caves etc) I have been advised to leave hiking through these until after the baby is born in September.   Having been to a fairly horrendous croc farm in Siem Reap, Cambodia in pursuit of his interests we were a little apprehensive. We checked the website and the farm is now, no longer a farm as such but a mini zoo as well.  We became even more sceptical as many small zoos are dreadful places. 

The farm, when we turned up, was rather idyllically situated with large (croc free) ponds and a rather tired looking pony offering rides to children.  We decided not to take up the offer!  Foreigners pay more than Malaysian citizens but the costs are not exorbitant.  Once you enter the zoo there is a reasonably good quality display on the evolution of crocodiles and a history of their interaction with humans in Borneo. 

The farm is set around beautiful, large, ponds.
The local crocs are saltwater (salties), they have a reputation as being the biggest and meanest of the crocodilians.  Some of the news reports of the captured man eaters were truly terrifying.  Having lived in land reclaimed from the swamp in Warri, Nigeria I have a healthy fear of crocodiles.  One child I knew used to keep baby crocs as pets before releasing them into the wild –pure madness as they would come back to the house when older (and larger), even a fairly small crocodile can kill a cat or baby, requiring the poor things to be killed or moved a long way away.  The ones in Borneo are much larger and much, much meaner. 

Some of the smaller crocodiles resting before feeding.  
From the display we walked along to the croc ponds – huge behemoths lazed in the sun looking for all the world to be fast asleep.  A short while later, however, a feeding time came round and we were under no illusions as to the speed the animals can move at.  A keeper stood some distance from the crocs, well protected by a barricade and threw (dead) chickens into the enclosure.  As the chickens came past a croc would raise his head, lightning fast, and devour it before a competitor could grab it from him, before retreating to the illusion of torpor. 

Having watched in silent awe we moved on to see the pythons in their enclosures, the zoo has a good range of exhibits here and the children were fascinated to watch one curled up, incubating her eggs.  While we were here the zoo’s tame sun bear walked up to us, he snuggled up to my husband and tried to nibble his fingers before a keeper came up with a bottle of milk.  The juvenile bear, who had been hand-reared, drank his milk before moving on to a whole coconut which he broke into in short order with his amazing claws.  Following this he retreated into a tiny little cage – we are not sure whether this is his chosen resting place (much as a domestic dog will choose to sleep in a crate) or if it is his, sadly tiny, pen.  I would have preferred to see him with access to a large enclosure with vegetation, trees etc.  He was generally healthy but did have a few, worrying, bald patches.  The other sun bears, who also live in the zoo, have rather miserable concrete enclosures and look very sad and frustrated.  These rare animals are classed as ‘vulnerable’ so all conservation efforts are good but I do wish they had a more satisfying place to live in.

We met this friendly hand-reared sun bear
wandering around the zoo.
He broke into the coconut in less than 2 minutes.
Other animals available to see include Peacocks, Parrots and Monkeys (chained to their homes and looking a bit depressed). Hornbills, Cassowaries and Sambar Deer. The Deer have a large enclosure which is grassed but they can also be 'treated' to extra feed bought from the attendants.  We did not buy any!

The deer do have grass to graze on but come to visitors who
are allowed to buy artificial feed for them.  
All in all although not the best zoo we have ever been to we did get the impression that it was trying.  Small zoos have a challenging path to walk in terms of welfare and break even.  As Miri grows as a tourist destination and more people come to visit hopefully the increased revenue can go to improving the living conditions for the animals, certainly boycotting (as some visitors advise on Tripadvisor) will not lead to any improvements. The keepers are friendly and knowledgeable, I can see that this is a place that we will probably be taking visiting friends and family members as  it is a good introduction to the local wildlife.

Click on the picture for more information on life in Borneo.

Ersatz Expat

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