What is a zoo? Could we consider Calauit Island Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary (Palawan) a zoo? Is the best zoo in the Philippines? My choice? That’s pretty obvious from the title of this post. But I’m not talking about Ark Avilon Zoo, located beside Tiendesitas, Ortigas. I’m talking about it’s sister zoo, the bigger Avilon Zoo in Rodriguez, Rizal. (Perhaps you’re telling yourself Avilon Zoo is in Montalban, Rizal. That was exactly my thoughts, then I got confused because the end of our journey brought us to the town of Rodriguez, not Montalban. I later learned that Montalban is the old name of Rodriguez, Rizal.)
I would say that the centerpiece of our weekend visit, at least for my son, is the Hill Mynah. We were wondering who was saying “Hi”. Then the same voice said, “Kumain ka na?” By the time we heard “Panget“, we already tracked down the culprit — the talking Mynah bird, black feathers with an orange beak and a yellow streak on its head, pretty much like a hair highlight of fashionistas (but unlike many of our homo sapien comrades, the yellow highlight on the Mynah looks great on it). Even without the label on the cage, you’ll still know its name. When you go there, ask “What’s your name?” You’ll be surprised to hear “Mynah”.
There are other familiar birds like the Ostrich and Flamingo. The long trip made me hungry and I thought the ostrich would probably make a nice lechon manok, er, ostrich. Some of us who are lucky enough to have grown in the province knows it’s wise to keep away from a mother hen when the chicks are around. Come too close and the hen will treat that as a threat to her children. What happens? Saw fighting cocks go at each other, with legs kicking and wings flapping? Mother hens do that too. Imagine if an ostrich behaves like that.
Anyway, there are many exotic names such as Pink Necked Green Pigeon, Victoria Crowned Pigeon, Metallic Pigeon, Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Ring-Necked Parakeet, White Capped Parrot, Black-Headed Caique, Mt. Apo Lory, Black-Capped Lory, Red-Billed Toucan, Blue and Gold Macaw (as well as other species of macaws). There are sinister-sounding names, like the Cut Throat Finch. In terms of color, there’s the beautiful Red Masked Conure. And no, please don’t ask for pictures of those birds; it’s always better for you to see the real thing.
Mankind’s relatives are also fairly represented in the Avilon Zoo.
There are orangutans and monkeys. An island surrounded by a electric-wired moat, just opposite the orangutan home, holds the Muller Gibbon, Agile Gibbon, Concolor Gibbon and Lar Gibbon. And perhaps just like mankind, animals probably suffer from strange psychological disorders like identity crisis — like that animal in Avilon Zoo that can’t seem to decide whether its a mouse or a deer, the Balabac Mouse Deer. (Then again, mankind gave them that name).
Big cats, of course, are there. Persian Leopard, South American Jaguar, Siberian Tiger. The lions, though, were too shy to come out. Then I spotted the Spotten Hyena, animals with strong biting force, although this hardly occupied my mind. The first thing I uttered upon seeing the hyenas is this – Mufasa . . . say it again, say it again. If you don’t recognize those lines, it’s ok. Just go see the animated movie Lion King with your kids. I suggest you should, just to see how funny hyenas could be, of course through the eyes of Walt Disney.
Avilon Zoo seemed very ordinary at first. The short walk from the entrance, with only a handful of ducks and some arapaimas in view, was far from spectacular. Then going up the slope and into the heart of the zoo, I realized that there’s so much to see and experience. The landscaping looks good and there’s a lot of clean, comfort rooms (that alone is impressive). It was a great place to see the animals up close (you know how a Red Pacu, Sun Bear or Malaysian Tapir looks like?). By the time we reached the part where the snakes are, we had to leave. We had no more time to see the rest of the place.
The Avilon Zoo is open on weekdays (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and weekends/holidays (8 a.m. to 6 pm). How much? Entrance fee is P250 for adults and children (the rate doesn’t apply for those who don’t exceed a certain height). How to go there? Getting to Avilon Zoo isn’t easy. You could try the directions posted at the Avilon Zoo website, but I saw little help from it. From Quezon Circle, we took the route through Katipunan (Quezon City), turned right under the flyover, took the first U-turn, drove straight to the Sta. Lucia Mall after the LRT station, took the first U-turn, right turn at the intersection with McDonald’s, then, from there, relied on the goodwill of people in asking for directions. We’ll need more time to retrace our steps. Those who are familiar with the directions are most welcome to help.