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'Even god is shedding tears for us': Jurong Bird Park closes for final time

'Even god is shedding tears for us': Jurong Bird Park closes for final time
The final Kings Of The Skies show held at Jurong Bird Park’s Hawk Arena on Tuesday.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - It started as a light drizzle but soon became a full-blown downpour.

Jurong Bird Park’s last show – Kings of the Skies – was brought to an end by heavy rain on the park’s last day of operations in Jurong after 52 years.

As animal presenter Chandra Mohan thanked visitors for their support over the years on Tuesday afternoon, he – quite literally – soaked in the moment.

Hands outstretched towards the skies, the 43-year-old told visitors at the 900-seat Hawk Arena that “even God is shedding tears for us”. Some stayed behind in the rain to thank the staff for their work.

Earlier in the day at the Pools Amphitheatre, the significance of the last High Flyers show, another crowd favourite, appeared not to be lost on Chucky, a bantam rooster. After staring at the audience, it flew off its perch and onto presenter Eileen Lim’s arm – after some coaxing.

At the end of the show, the staff gathered for a final curtain call, with many of them teary-eyed.

Among them was Mrs Zernalynne Flores, a supervisor for animal behaviour and programmes, who has worked at the park since 2011. It holds fond memories for the 35-year-old and her husband, as they had their marriage solemnised in 2021 at the Pools Amphitheatre, where they first met.

Mrs Flores said she arrived at work about 20 minutes earlier than usual on Tuesday morning and started snapping photos to preserve her memories.

“Everyone was emotional backstage because it was the last show, but we cheered each other on and said, ‘let’s do one last good show’”, she said.

At 6.53pm, the park’s shutters were lowered after staff ushered out the last visitors. About 41 million people have visited the park over its more than five decades of operations since Jan 3, 1971.

Those who left the park last were cheered on by a guard of honour, formed by park staff.

The last guests to walk out of the gates were 10-year-old Tan Jun Yi and his mother and grandmother.

“I almost cried,” the boy said, when asked how he felt seeing the shutters come down. “It’s a pity that it rained at the last show because I wanted to record it.”

He said he was sad that the park was closing but was happy that the birds would have better living conditions at their new home.

Park operator Mandai Wildlife Group will be moving the park’s 3,500 birds to the new Bird Paradise in Mandai Wildlife Reserve. It is slated to open in the second quarter of 2023.

In 2025, the Jurong site will be returned to JTC Corporation and the authorities have said they would consult the public on plans for the area, which includes the neighbouring Jurong Hill.

Since Nov 19, 2022, Singaporeans and permanent residents paid only $10 per admission ticket, so that “as many as possible can visit before the final day of operations”, Mandai Wildlife Group had said.

It said that visitorship to the park had almost doubled after its closing date was announced in August. On the last five days of operations, about 30,000 people showed up, with 2,600 of them visiting on Tuesday – more than the daily average of about 2,000.

Mr Roslee Mustaffa, 57, a facilities manager who has worked at the park since 1991, said the sadness of leaving will likely sink in as he and his team pack up for the move to Mandai.

For now, getting to grips with the new park is the main concern.

“Same old colleagues, but the whole place is new. In fact, 70 to 80 per cent of the systems we will be using are new to us,” he said.

“There are always stages in your life where there is change and this is one of them.”

ALSO READ: Goodbye Jurong: Singapore's bird park has $10 ticket promo before big move next year

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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