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SAIGON: The zoo

One good reason to go to a zoo in the world's less spectacular cities is: there are no imperfect animals. If a zoo has any kind of collection at all, you're guaranteed to see some creature that will delight you. Also, the specific selection and presentation of the animals inevitably reflects something about the country you're in.

The Saigon zoo is a bit run down, and missing about a quarter of the animals from its cages. It would not, for many tourists, be an obvious draw. But it also has a pleasant, intentionally meandering layout and a cozy feel to it. Its most obvious local characteristic is the number of crocodiles and their smaller cousins caymans to be seen. The crocs themselves aren't terribly exciting - they're big sleepy creatures that doze away at the back of their concrete cells, different as each may be. The pools for the caymen are viewed from a winding, partly covered bridge:

These small reptiles rest their snouts on the far edge of each pool, fanning out. Two or three pools hold the smaller ones:

and another holds a bigger one, a true croc:

It was disconcerting to think how easy it would be for a child to jump off the bridge into these playful looking little pools...

A pair of ostriches seemed to be doing something different every time I passed by - once, just sitting in their innner cage, another time, weaving their heads at each other like feuding serpents, another, glaring at me:

Very entertaining in a quiet way.

Several cages held beautiful if not unfamiliar birds - a silver pheasant, vultures, a hawk, etc.

The pheasant seemed to be crowing like a rooster, which was a bit surprising.

A miniature lake held a small island with two white birds - geese? - and a golden monkey who seemed to adore the attention of the crowd, cavorting from one end of the island to the other, arms and legs extended, non-stop:

Later I saw a film crew by one end of this "lake", two boats in the water, and a couple seated at a low table for a scene. The company - HTV - was local, but the director and DP looked European or American.

I spent an unusually long time watching a pygmy hippo:

who first barely peeked above his waterline, then waddled as slowly as possible over to me and opened two rather impressive jaws, expecting a treat, and then, not getting it, turned around 180 degrees and... SPRAYED in my general direction. Luckily, I'd stepped just a bit aside. I still don't know if it was personal or if he was just relieving himself (solid came out along with the mist of liquid). From that side too there was some other surprising details (an inverted curve, like a hook, on one key item) that made that particular animal especially memorable.

There were also various big cats

smooth otters

a porcupine with its own cave


etc. I was watching the latter when I heard giggling behind me and turned to find two little boys and their sister, all adorable, grinning up at me, with their father smiling from a distance. To them, as to several other kids I encountered, a large Westerner was just one more exotic sight.

There was also, as it happened, a separate children's zoo within the zoo itself:

with goats and sheep, all with their fragile young:

At one point a particularly malevolent looking goat stuck its Pan-like head out of an opening in the fence, apparently hoping to be fed. A toddler in his parents' arms screamed, to their great amusement, if not mine - that thing had TEETH.

Some of the benches, at least, have corporate sponsorship:

And of course what popular site does not have graffiti?

Those interested in Vietnamese art history might want to know that there is a small museum right inside the main gate. Be warned however that it requires an extra entrance fee.