DURING this time of the year, several animals take center stage at the Malabon Zoo and Aquarium as a faithful reminder that once upon a time, the ancient Chinese found much affinity with the animals surrounding them to put them in a place of honor known as the Chinese Zodiac.
Malabon Zoo owner Manny Tangco places the white rat, the rabbits, and the ?bayawak? (the local lizard/dragon) in a glass cage near the foyer where they could welcome the guests that troop to the zoo daily.
The zoo?s snake?the rare 150-kilo Albino Burmese python?and the orangutan are also taken out of their cages for special picture-taking and petting sessions with the zoo guests.
The mighty Bengal tigers, for safety reasons of course, are kept in their cages but always welcome the guests with their loud roars.
The black and burly Philippine wild pig or boar, while also fenced in, may delight kids with a little feeding time with the zoo?s food pellets.
The Chinese Astrology animals (with the exception of the domesticated horse, dog, goat/sheep, and rooster) are all featured at the Malabon zoo as part of the local festivities for the Chinese New Year.
Good way to educate
According to Tangco, the Chinese New Year celebration is a good way to educate the zoo?s visitors about the importance of animals in the ecosystem and ultimately in the lives of humans.
?We always want to take every opportunity to help people be aware of animals and nature in general so they will love them and take care of them,? Tangco said.
As one of the zoo?s posters put it: ?People conserve only what they love. People love only what they know. People only know what they are taught.?
Tangco said the Chinese Astrology is a perfect example in teaching people?particularly the children?on how animals are usually held in great esteem by some people like the Chinese.
He added that apparently, people saw themselves as not any different from their faunal counterparts they even took time and effort to learn their own personalities from observations of the animals? characteristics.
Showing the huge yellow and white Albino Burmese python named Cheesecake to a group of student visitors at the zoo that day, Tangco explained how snakes are often seen in the wild as attentive and organized in zeroing in on a prey and then going for a decisive kill.
As each animal sign is said to embody the personality traits of persons born under their animal sign, Tangco also related to the group how a person born in the year of the snake are often described as philosophical, organized, intelligent, intuitive, elegant, attentive and decisive, much like their animal counterparts.
Tangco added that Filipinos can also take their cue from this year?s central animal figure, the ox, to be as hardworking and ?bullish? as much as possible especially since the world?s financial woes that started last year are expected to hit the country this year.
?What you visualize is what will happen in the country. The ox, for example, is one of the hardest working animals around. So Filipinos must work as hard as them this year,? said Tangco.
This year?s Chinese New Year celebration will also be a more festive one for the Malabon zoo since the birth of two Bengal tigers last month.
The baby tigers?aptly named ?Tiger Economy? and ?Global Warming??were borne by the zoo?s widely popular tiger couple named ?Gloria? and ?Erap.?
The Malabon zoo has always been an important educational tool on environmental awareness particularly for children who, in their youth, have only been exposed to modern technology and not much to the animal world, Tangco said.
True to that aim, he said, they have always named their zoo animals with social relevance to teach young visitors not only about the environment but even political and economic issues.
?Tiger Economy? and ?Global Warming? were chosen as the cubs? names this year to symbolize the two big challenges that the country and the world are set to face.
Tangco said every time ?Tiger Economy? is presented to zoo visitors, they visualize a more robust economy this year instead of the gloomy economic meltdown that has been the buzz-word towards the end of last year.
?Global Warming,? on the other hand, seeks to remind visitors of the extreme climate changes that have resulted in the death of many animals due to the loss of their natural habitat and sources of food.
Bengal tigers, for example, used to number 100,000 but are now down to only about 2,000, Tangco said.
Nowadays, many people turn to the television set or computer for recreation.
Tangco cited the benefits of technological advances but stressed that people should never lose their affinity and love for animals, which have long provided help and sustenance for humans even before computers came into the picture.
The Malabon Zoo, by offering rare views of and interaction with animals often seen only in pictures by the young generation, will continue to teach people how animals and nature should be taken cared before they all disappear into mere pictures we surf on the Internet.