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Survival of the fittest for Zoo Negara

Once a major tourist attraction, the zoo appears to be back on its feet after the pandemic but still in need of a revamp.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
2 minute read
A Zoo Negara photographer snaps a picture of a family posing in front of a cardboard backdrop of pandas before they enter the zoo.
A Zoo Negara photographer snaps a picture of a family posing in front of a cardboard backdrop of pandas before they enter the zoo.

For decades, Zoo Negara has been a tourist draw for local and international visitors alike who flock to the park in Ulu Klang, Selangor, to take in the sight, sound – and smell – of the thousands of animals which live on the grounds. 

Today, though, the question for some might be the extent to which the zoo has kept up with the times, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which caused widespread closures throughout the country for the better part of two years. 

A recent visit to the zoo found many of its facilities unchanged and a dated air hanging about the place. 

The glass of the aquarium and penguin enclosure was dirty and smudged, and the posters featuring the different animals were faded and worn.

At some displays, there was a lack of information about the animals inside, leaving visitors to wonder about what they were looking at, or to pull out their phones for a quick Google search. 

Visitors walk past a row of gift shops at Zoo Negara. 

Zoo Negara was opened to the public nearly six decades ago, in 1963. 

It was a huge hit throughout the 1980s, attracting crowds of visitors as Kuala Lumpur had none of the major attractions and shopping malls that it now boasts. 

In 1986, it received a further boost with the opening of a KFC branch which the fast food franchise actively promoted on television. 

And while its appeal may have faded throughout the years, it remains a strong tourist draw, especially on weekends and public holidays. 

In 2021, the zoo entered the media spotlight with reports of financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic.

This marked the start of a series of initiatives by NGOs and other groups to collect donations and contributions to ensure that the animals could continue receiving good care. 

But it also saw many asking how the zoo could end up in such circumstances despite its decades of success. 

Back on its feet

More than two and a half years after the onset of Covid-19, the zoo appears to have regained its footing.

MalaysiaNow's trip to the zoo found thousands of visitors including tourists and families with young children admiring the animals in their enclosures. 

Families stop for a meal at an eatery at the zoo. 

The aquarium, reptile exhibition and tiger enclosure were particular hits, while interactive sessions with snakes and giant tortoises pulled in the crowds as well. 

Yet here and there, visitors were also reminded of the zoo's age. 

The lake, which was the setting of a scene in the film "Masam-Masam Manis" starring P Ramlee, is now home only to birds on the hunt for fish. 

And with the KFC branch there long closed, visitors are left to choose from a selection of cafes, some of which stretch the budget more than others. 

For many, a trip to the zoo remains an experience to be enjoyed and remembered. 

But with more and more attractions popping up throughout the Klang Valley, it might be hard put to continue bringing in the crowds without some measure of revamp.