6 spots for kids who love animals

The obvious place to take children who love animals is the zoo, where creatures and critters both everyday and exotic can be found under just one roof. Interaction with animals is prohibited by cages or protective glass, or is controlled in feeding and petting stations. Zoos offer various activities for children, having come a long way from the time when the only alternative was to buy refreshments from a kiosk.

On the other hand, places such as animal farms, riding stables, and resorts with environmental programs give children a chance to have closer, even meaningful interaction with the animals. Eco-tourism initiatives educate children on the importance of protecting animals and their habitats. And children who are interested in specific animals — horses, for example — can get to know them better in a place that specializes in looking after them.

Activities that are common among most of these animal destinations include feeding stations for rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and goats; fishing; and horse riding. They also provide opportunities to pet and take photos with trained or domesticated animals. 

Some visitors may, in their excitement, forget that animals are not humans and should not be expected to behave like us. And while animals may take whatever you hold out to them, their diets are different from ours. Just because most of them are stoic doesn’t mean they don’t get stressed out by big crowds, loud noises, flash photography, and improper handling.

These animals are here not just to amuse us but, more important, to educate us about our world and our place in it. Take advantage of these moments to teach children how to treat animals with care and respect.

1. ARK AVILON ZOO

Frontera Verde Ortigas Avenue Corner C-5, Pasig; www.facebook.com/arkavilonzoo, +63 2 7062992. Mon-Thu 9am-6pm, Fri-Sun 10am-7:30pm.

BEST FOR: Visits that don’t require a trip out of Metro Manila. Years ago, a trip to the zoo automatically meant Manila Zoo. Other zoos have opened since, and thankfully for the animals, several of them are outside the city where there is more fresh air and open space. Ark Avilon is where to go if your preschooler demands, “I want to go to the zoo NOW!” Unless you live in the south, in which case read on.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE: Ark Avilon is easy to find because it’s just off C-5 highway, near Tiendesitas. Besides, who can miss a giant boat? In the welcome area, birds greet visitors without leaving their perches. Reptiles and small rodents in terrariums line the walls. Wild cats pace behind glass walls in the first floor, which opens to a pond where ducks and turtles swim. Predatory birds and a bearcat stay in enclosures that have no physical barriers.
Older children like being able to pet or handle (with supervision) the albino snake, orangutan, and some tropical birds. The animal exhibits are clean and well-maintained. Most are in covered areas so that a rainy day will never be too wet nor a mid-afternoon too hot for a visit.
Mounted on the wall of the second floor are art displays made from recycled materials. The space is dominated by the feeding station, which has pens of goats, rabbits and guinea pigs. This is a favorite among young children.
CROWD-DRAWER: Jenny the orangutan.

2. FUN FARM AT STA. ELENA

Barrio Malitlit, Sta. Rosa, Laguna; www.holycarabao.com, +63 920 4688785, +63 918 8886588. Daily 9am-4pm, by appointment only.

BEST FOR: Farm visit 101. There are a lot of activities specifically geared towards children who, after seeing the animals in a farm setting, might want to do other things as well.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE: I Spy is a good game to play here because for one thing, the chickens roam the grounds freely and lay their eggs wherever it strikes their fancy. The stables are kind of a retirement home for horses, some of which were donated here because they could no longer work or are old.
The retired white polo horse still commands awe even though it is past its prime. The Fun Farm at Santa Elena is a working organic farm that is also a place for recreation. Visitors can ride a carabao-drawn cart, horses, and boats in a small pond. There is also a zipline as well as a covered sand pit with play sets.
CROWD-DRAWER:  Chocnut the carabao.

3. PARADIZOO FARM

Km. 63 Panungyan, Mendez, Cavite; www.zoomanity.com.ph, +63 2 8999828, +63 946 3011228, info@zoomanity.com.ph. Daily 8am-5pm.

BEST FOR: Hands-on experiences with farm animals. It’s a treat to bottle-feed the kids (baby goats, not young humans). And milking goats give a feeling of accomplishment to most of us city folk whose primary use for hands is typing. 
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE:  Paradizoo’s horses (miniature and normal-sized ones), goats, and the camel are its most interesting animals. This mini-zoo and theme farm has camping grounds, pavilions, and even a pet cemetery that serves as a final resting place for dead pets. Apart from animal feedings, another favorite children’s activity is fishing in the duck pond.
CROWD-DRAWER:  Bull-tes Five, the five-legged bull.

4. EL KABAYO RIDING STABLES

El Kabayo Road, Binictican, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, 2222 Subic, Zambales; www.wildlifeinneed.org, +63 47 2521050, +63 47 2528494, +63 918 9395730. Daily 8:30am-5:30pm.

BEST FOR: The aspiring equestrian.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE:  El Kabayo’s location in Subic Bay forest offers riding trails for riders with different levels of experience. A grassy, tree-shaded trail on level ground is manageable for younger children and those with no riding experience, whereas a mountain trail with steep inclines poses a good challenge for both horse and rider.
Visit for a day and leisurely explore on horseback. Or make periodic visits in order to take riding lessons.
CROWD-DRAWER:  Arabian horses.

5. ZOOBIC

Group I Ilanin Forest Subic Bay Freeport Zone; www.zoobic.com.ph, +63 47 2522272, +63 929 7072222; Makati office +63 2 8957142, +63 2 898-3695, +63 2 8999824, +63 917 8351111. Daily 8am-4pm.

BEST FOR: Kids who are fascinated with wild animals.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE:  What are animals doing in bunkers with camouflaged roofing? The zoo is part of the former US naval base so several of the existing structures have been converted as shelter and exhibit areas. Some of the repurposing is ingenious.
A tiny few suggest room for improvement: the “savannah” is an open, cemented area where ostriches and baboy damo roam.
Guided tours make navigating through the 25-hectare complex manageable for guests. Tram rides transport visitors from one attraction to another; otherwise getting from place may mean a long, hot and dusty walk.
Zoobic is particularly proud of its tigers and has been successfully breeding these endangered animals in captivity. Visitors can ride into an enclosed area, watch tigers roam and feed them from the safety of the safari jeep. Children can participate in animal feeding at the crocodile pit, where statue-like crocs lunge at raw meat in the blink of an eye.
CROWD-DRAWER:  Tiger safari, crocodile feeding.

6. MONTEMAR BEACH CLUB

Sitio Pasinay Brgy. Pag Asa Bagac, Bataan; www.montemar.com.ph, +63 2 8115496.

BEST FOR: Involving children in wildlife preservation.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE:  According to Montemar, there are seven species of marine turtle in the world and five of them are found in the Philippines. Of that five, three lay their eggs in the beaches of Bataan. A number of them find their way in Montemar. To hold a pawikan hatchling is to hold a member of a protected species, and to release it to the sea is a poignant experience even for adults.
Adopt a turtle through Montemar’s Pawikan Adoption Kit or check in at the resort during Grand Pawikan Day, an event organized around guiding the hatchlings to the sea.
Eggs don’t hatch on any specific dates, but some months see more hatchlings. Call the resort and check if they’re “expecting.”
CROWD-DRAWER: Turtle hatchlings

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