MANILA, Philippines — All it takes is an hour and thirty minute-drive away from the hustle and bustle of Manila to reach a sprawling 50-hectare zoo theme park in Subic where the entire family can enjoy a day of fun activities – all in close interaction with animals.
Zoocobia Fun Zoo is taking away the restrictions of the normal zoo by allowing visitors to get up close and personal with animals you don’t get to see everyday –from having a furry pack of vibrantly colored birds perch and peck at seeds on your bare hands, coming face to face with an Ostrich, right to extending a banana treat to the meek bearcat.
“Being in the business of making people happy, we want to get the best of everything in the world and give it to the Filipinos,” Robert Yupangco, Zoomanity President and CEO, told INQUIRER.net in an interview.
He said that they would soon offer mango picking and 4×4 drives around the park–gradually building Zoocobia to be one of the most sought after theme parks in the country.
“Hopefully, even foreigners would soon come to Zoocobia since Southeast Asia is fast becoming the vacation capital of the world,” Yupangco said.
Zoocobia is just one of the various theme parks and establishments under Zoomanity Group of the Yupangco Group of Companies, one of the older and more popular parks being its Zoobic Safari.
Unique combination of rides, animal interaction
From the hay-strewn entrance to the theme park, all built to resemble a barn, visitors will be whisked to the outdoors to get first hand interaction with Zoocobia’s animals.
The Barn features mostly farm animals from kids (baby goats) whom visitors can bottlefeed with milk; horses, pigs and even the ever favorite llama.
Zoocobia also holds its own animal show, regaling children – and even adults –with performances by trained animals.
“Our Day Show features dogs dancing, animals performing tricks,” Yupangco said, pointing out that their trainers have been developing and improving their animals’ talents and performances.
There is an aviary where visitors can feed from their hands to a pack of colorful birds while a separate area called Birds of Paradise houses several larger species including the Sun Conure, Rufous Hornbill, Serpent Eagle and the Philippine Eagle Owl among others.
Horseback riding, zipline rides called Zing, the Zooc Ride which is similar to go-karts, and the 20-meter long giant fun slide are only a few of the rides Zoocobia offers.
Work, education for Aetas
The steady influx of visitors to Zoocobia means good business for Yupangco but he said that it also meant better opportunities for the nearby Aeta community.
These indigenous people are either seen running about in Zoocobia uniform or garbed in ethnic dress preparing for their performances.
Yupangco then proudly pointed to a group of Aeta dancers dressed in suits that would light up during their evening performances and said “we are very proud of them. they are very talented. They conceptualize most of their performances.”
Aside from providing work, he said that they also put up a small academy which they named Aeta Academy right inside the theme park’s premises, “and our staff teaches the Aeta children when we have less work on our hands.”
Their offer of work and education was part of Zoomanity’s corporate social responsibility, said De Jesus.
A product of hard work
Pointing to the wide expanse of land which the staff is grooming to become Zoocobia’s mango picking area, Yupangco said that it cost them “blood, sweat and tears” to be able to reach a 30-40 percent progress in their operations.
“This was like a mountain once, we fixed it up but after two years the soil eroded and we had to work even harder, planting ‘verti grass’ which can grow eight feet high and replanting trees,” he said.
Improvements will continue and Yupangco hopes that they will not need to stop anytime soon.
Zoomanity’s theme parks have gained popularity over the years and Yupangco said they were eyeing increasing their one million visitors annually to two million “hopefully by this year.”
Post-Valentines Day treat
Zoobic also intends to make its Love is in the Air program a yearly extravaganza, banking on the annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta which drew large crowds to Subic.
The event was held twice, once last year and the second one last February 23, but its popularity has prompted Yupangco to think about holding it every year.
“Love is in the Air will now happen every year,” he said, all excited for their activities which include Poi dancing, an animal parade, and the lighting of sky lanterns shaped like hearts – to make the experience of sending off wishes to the sky even sweeter.
“We want this to be like what Sentosa is to Singapore and Knott’s Berry Farm in the US. They have peach and apple picking in the US, here we can have mango picking,” Yupangco added.
For more information on Zoocobia and the rest of Zoomanity Group’s theme parks, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/zoomanitygroup