Beautiful creatures in beautiful gardens

(No.1, Vol.9,Feb-Mar 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

If you are feeling down in the dumps, my best recommendation to brighten up your spirits is take a child to the zoo. There can be no doubt about the popularity of the Saigon Zoo as a place of retreat, relaxation, entertainment and education. I recently did a straw poll among my English class of thirty to forty-year old vocational college teachers. It revealed ninety per cent had been to the zoo, fifty per cent had taken their children there and ten per cent had childhood memories of a visit there. The Saigon Zoo, started by the French in 1865, is one of the oldest in the world and there is now a book with spectacular photographs to remember it by.
The bulk of the book is taken up by the animals. Herbivores come first. Along with the show stealers such as elephants, hippos, giraffes, a rhino, a Bactrian camel and zebras which are shown not only to have black and white but also brown stripes, there are deer locking horns, a kangaroo staring at the camera and an otter up to its mischievous tricks. There are even humorous pictures; a child sitting in the wide jawed mouth of a hippo and real ducks swimming up to swan shaped paddle pleasure boats.
On to the carnivores and they have, of course, had a field day with the cats. There are snarling tigers with the bright beauty of the white ones and close-ups of lion jaws with long manes flowing. There is a crouching leopard and you can almost hear the whooping of the hyena. The primates are given due justice too. Gibbons swing in the trees. There is a yawning orangutan, beautifully bearded and coiffured monkeys and a very pensive looking chimpanzee.
As for the reptiles, the much maligned snakes get to show the exquisite beauty if their skins and the colourful geckos, monitor lizards and majestic iguanas all could gift the photographers with prizes.
The only section which disappointed me a little was the gardens. A few gnarled tree trunks and panoramas of the verdure of lawns is simply not enough. Having often enjoyed many a ramble in this garden of Eden, I would appeal for more in any future edition. Let justice be done for example to the blooms in the orchid garden.
Lastly, there are snaps of the museum which opened only in late 2018. There are plenty of close ups of stuffed fierce animals,the imposing skeletons of some of the larger animals, pinned butterfly collections and dry pressed plant parts. This is the first news I have had of this latest addition and whets the appetite for a visit.
The minimal text is Vietnamese and English. Only the introductions to sections are bi-lingual; information about the individual flora and fauna is given in Vietnamese only. The English, while fully intelligible, could have done with the ha'pence worth of tar it would have cost to have a native speaker edit it. There are mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and word choice. This is a compact paperback with a glossy cover. One gets the feeling it was originally conceived to be a hardback coffee table book. In this form it is of course very reasonably priced and available to a wider public.
This, then, is a tome that will easily fit in your hand carry-no risk of being charged extra b­aggage. As well as a great souvenir of one of Saigon's grandest institutions, it is a celebration of the creatures we share our planet with and along with the painstaking care to show them at their finest taken by the photographers. There may be a subtle hint of the care we all need to take to conserve them.
The book is directed by photographer Hoang Trung Thuy, made incollaboration with his team of young Vietnamese photographers.

Thao Cam Vien - Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Published by Vietnam News Agency Publishing House. Price 120,000 VND.
Available at the Zoo, 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City and Phuong Nam Book Shops.

By Ritch Pickens. Photos provided by photographer HTT, Director of the Book Project.
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