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Owner Basapa with his prized animals

Punggol Zoo: The First Zoo in Singapore

The first zoo in Singapore had a nominal entrance fee of 40 cents and an extensive array of over 200 animals and 2,000 birds ranging from Black Panthers and Arabian Camels, to Shetland Horses and even the owner Basapa’s very own Bengal Tiger, better known as “Apay”. Comparatively, the Singapore Zoological Gardens of today charges an admission of $16 for adults. 

Contrary to popular belief, our famous Singapore Zoological Gardens (or Mandai Zoo), opened in 1973, was not the first zoo in Singapore. It is the first and only national zoo, but before it, there were already several private zoos operating in Singapore. 

22 Punggol Road: Location of then-Punggol Zoo. Click for full map.

In 1928, a man by the name of William Lawrence Soma Basapa (1893-1943) acquired 27 hectares of land along Track 22 Punggol Road to set up the first full size public zoo and bird park, which would later become better known as Punggol Zoo.

The beginnings of Basapa’s Punggol Zoo however started back in his inherited house along 317 Serangoon Road (though some say it was 549 Serangoon Road) where Basapa began collecting an array of birds and animals from 1920-1922.

Basapa had a personal pet tiger which was especially useful in helping him correct errant tenants.

Many visitors including even Albert Einstein visited this premise (He had even written in his travel diary that he had come across 'a wonderful zoological garden' referring to our Singapore's first zoo!) , but Basapa soon found the stench and crowds too overpowering and hence the move to the muddy but coastal settlement in Punggol.

However, Basapa’s precious zoo would be destroyed before the Japanese invasion. 

Identifying the Punggol end as a potential landing site for the Japanese invaders, the British forces wanted to make use of the Ponggol Zoo as a defensive ground.

Account from Basapa's son on the number of animals in the zoo

With a limited time of 24 hours, Basapa needed to find an alternate place to relocate his zoo but could not, prompting the British to shoot the animals and free the birds. After the fall of Singapore, the Japanese confiscated Basapa’s power generators and steel cages, using the site to store their supplies and ammunition. A devastated Basapa passed away in 1943.

via Remember Singapore, LionRaw,