Take a walk on the wild side and be thrilled by the animals at Lost World of Tambun’s Petting Zoo.
Walking into the Lost World of Tambun’s Petting Zoo is like re-enacting a scene from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The animals live together, sleep together and seem to communicate with one another with their cacophony of bleats and crows. The only difference is they’re not plotting to take over the zoo.
Deer, sheep, wallabies, raccoons, birds, chickens and other two- and four-legged creatures are among the many animals housed in the zoo in Perak. They are tame, happy and docile enough to interact with and be stroked by humans.
The Petting Zoo is the latest addition to the growing list of attractions at Sunway City’s Lost World of Tambun. Opened last September at a cost of RM6mil, the place was built with minimal removal of trees. Much of the environment has been preserved to enable the 55 species of animals to live in a habitat created as close as possible to the way nature intended it.
The 7,432sq m area is framed by lush rainforest, and most evenings, you can see macaques dropping in for meals. Having been displaced from their homes the macaques have discovered that food can be obtained at the Petting Zoo. Every day at 5pm, you’ll see three families lounging about waiting for their meals.
While some of the animals here were purchased, others were rescued from the surrounding areas, born in captivity or handed over by people. For example, a monk from a nearby temple donated 40 tortoises because he couldn’t look after them anymore.
“There were drug addicts breaking into the temple grounds and stealing tortoises for food, so when the monk saw our ad, he asked if he could donate them. We accepted, and months later when he came to see our place, he had tears in his eyes seeing how happy the tortoises were,” says Lost World of Tambun’s general manager Calvin Ho.
Some tortoises have since reproduced. The population is steadily growing and thriving in the natural spring water.
There are also the land tortoises (Sulcata tortoise), considered the third largest species in the world. In contrast to its aquatic counterparts, these cute creatures only go to the water for a sip. They use their scaly limbs to climb and during hot days, they dig in the ground to get to areas with higher moisture levels.
The Petting Zoo’s large aviary houses 18 species of birds. The birds are more than happy to feed off your hands or allow you to pose with them. The stars are the cockatoos and macaws.
All kinds of slithering reptiles can be found at the enclosed Serpentarium: reticulated pythons, mangrove snakes, king cobras, giant monitor lizards and much more. And who can forget the friendly five-year-old resident Burmese phython named Nia, which may greet you on arrival.
The Petting Zoo also holds animal shows at certain times of the day.
As part of its efforts to keep the area environmentally-friendly, the zoo creates its own fruit-based effective micro-organism (EM) concoction by blending pineapple, lime, sugar and water. The mixture is left to ferment for 60 days and used as a natural anti-bacterial solution and fertiliser for plants. About 30-40 containers are utilised every month.
“It’s time consuming to make but works out better in the long run as it’s non-toxic. This is a petting zoo and some of the animals roam freely and might poo in various places so we spray EM to kill the bacteria and neutralise the odour. A bad smell is a sign of bacteria,” explains Ho.
So far, touch wood, the animals have been disease-free. At the entrance of the Petting Zoo, all visitors have to step on a sloshy doormat which contains Dettol and acts as a disinfectant.
Racoon Ruby and her friends are the main highlight at the zoo. Invariably, almost every child squeals in delight when watching these animals play. And for city kids who have never experienced fishing, there’s a drain for them to scoop out little fish, but they would have to return the fish to the water as soon as possible to minimise trauma.
“We wanted to create a petting zoo so children could play with all kinds of animals and go home without worrying about having to take care of them,” says Ho, 45, who is proud to say that the mortality rate at the zoo is almost zero.
“All children want to have pets, but at the end of the day, it is the parents who end up taking care of the pets, so the Petting Zoo is a great way to allow kids to have their fill,” he adds.
And unlike other petting zoos, Ho maintains that the animals here are not overworked or stressed out by the many visitors.
“We rotate the animals so each one of them has a chance to be petted. Yes, they have shift duties and those who are not ‘working’ are sent to the exhibition area at the back for rest and play,” says Ho.
To get kids interested in and responsible about animals, Ho and his team just started the Junior Rangers programme two months ago for those in the six to 16 age group. They pay a yearly RM150 membership fee which entitles them to unlimited entry to the Petting Zoo. Actual rangers teach them about animals, and once they know enough, the kids can opt to sit for special exams.
Ho says, “Besides gaining knowledge, they learn public speaking because they may (get the chance to) introduce the animal to the guests. Some kid may someday make a difference and grow up to be a policymaker.”
Response has been overwhelming despite the Petting Zoo promoting its Junior Ranger programme via word of mouth only. It’s a great educational platform for schools and tourists, and a fantastic way to keep youngsters busy. There is no timeframe to master knowledge on all the animals and every child works at his own pace.
“We want learning to be fun. When you love, you learn. It’s a live theatre here.”
Happy in his World
More than two decades ago, a young Calvin Ho Ch’an Hin was juggling plates, arranging cutlery, washing soiled linen and polishing wine glasses at the Ecole Des Roches in Switzerland.
It was a humbling experience but he did it willingly as part of his hotel management course. At the back of his mind he chanted a mantra — one day I’m going to become the general manager of a hotel.
“I did everything from collecting rubbish to housekeeping duties to understand the fundamental operations of a hotel,” remembers Ho. “When you work from the bottom up, you know the job better and feel for your employees.”
Ho worked hard and did stints at different hotels in Europe and Malaysia. Seven years after graduating, Ho’s mantra bore fruit at 32. The smile on his lips hasn’t vanished since. But another general manager offer soon came along and he made the switch from hotel to theme park management in the mid 90s.
“Back then, when I had the opportunity to helm the management that built Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, theme park resort management was still in its infancy. The transition was rather natural. The only difference was its fast pace of growth and high energy entertainment which challenges the level of creativity,” he says.
In 2006, Ho accepted an offer to work in Sunway City, Ipoh. Today, at 45, he is the general manager of Lost World of Tambun and oversees all the attractions, which include the Water Park, Amusement Park, Hot Springs, Tiger Valley and Petting Zoo. Quite a task, you may think, but Ho relishes it.
Since the park spans over 16ha and is encircled by 400-million-year-old limestone cliffs, there is still plenty to be discovered in and around the place. Ho spends 70% of his time in the park, creating, experimenting, exploring, studying soil, researching limestone and training guides on jungle trekking and cave exploring. There are caves that have yet to be unearthed.
“I work crazy hours. There is no such thing as ‘working hours’, but I come in by 8.30 every morning. I seldom take off-days and, at most, might take one or two days off in a month to spend time with my two children,” he says.
Once he even worked for 10 years without taking a day’s leave! Do we smell a work-aholic?
“Oh, please don’t use that word,” he pleads. “I feel safe, comfortable and happy here so what more could I want? When you love your job, it’s not about money anymore.”
Every day, Ho can be found walking around in his shorts and shades, somewhere in the Lost World, attending to matters, speaking to customers, stroking animals or responding to calls of “Uncle Calvin” from the Junior Rangers at the Petting Zoo.
“I walk a lot, get wet, handle animals, climb and trek, so the outfit suits me fine,” he shrugs.
Ho brainstorms with his team of 90 to come up with high-energy attractions to provide more thrills to customers. Bit by bit, new attractions are being introduced to the theme park while the team tries to reinterpret nature or recreate a childhood memory. Ho points out that they do not replicate rides from other countries.
“We have to look at what is suitable for our market and take into consideration cost, safety and weather factors,” he explains.
Ho has indeed come a long way since his dustbin duty days. Not bad for someone who was clueless as to what to do after school and decided to take up a temporary job as an accounts clerk at a hotel.
“At that time, the hotel industry was not that glamorous as it was associated with prostitution. I entered and found this to be untrue. There was professionalism and skill, and I discovered that emotional quotient was more important than an intelligence quotient. I instantly took a liking to the job and aimed to become a general manager. I’ve never looked back,” he recalls.
Six months later, he was on the plane to Switzerland for a three-year course.
“Most parents then wanted their kids to become lawyers, accountants or doctors. I’m sure my parents secretly wished for that too but they supported whatever I wanted to do. They may have been disappointed then but they’re proud now,” he grins.
“If I didn’t become a hotelier, I really don’t know what I would be doing, but I do know that I will dedicate my life to the preservation and conservation of wildlife when I retire.”
Animals hold a special place in his heart, and Ho knows the background of all 55 species at the Petting Zoo. The Penangite didn’t grow up surrounded by animals but they always fascinated him. His strict parents only allowed fish, and perhaps lizards, in his home.
“As a kid, I used to rescue chickens, dogs and cats from drains and the roadside, and smuggle them into the house. I’d make them milk and feed them, but once my mum found out, I had to give them up to the SPCA,” he says, laughing.
“All animals fascinate me, from the tiger, right down to the insects. I believe everyone has a place in this world. An ant for instance, is so misunderstood that we eliminate them on sight. They play such an important role — ants clean up after us, remove dead trees, leaves, carcasses and leftovers. At the Petting Zoo, we share this passion and educate people on the importance of the wetlands.”
Over the years, Ho has garnered enough experience to realise there are very few difficult situations when handling customers — he believes there is always a solution and a win-win situation.
“My dream is to transform Lost World of Tambun into an international must-visit tourist destination. That is with the addition of The Lost World Hot Springs ‘Garden of Eden’ and Lost World Hotel,” he says. - Stories by Revathi Murugappan, Photos by Revathi Murugappan & Lost World