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Surabaya Zoo

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.

The Surabaya Zoo is also known as the Kebu Binatang Surabaya, or KBS for short. The zoo was first built in 1916 but changed location in 1918 before settling at the present site in 1920. The zoo claims not only to be the biggest in Indonesia but also the largest in Asia. Other claims are that it was the first zoo in the world to breed Orangutans and to maintain one of the largest collections of the species. It houses around 350 species in all. In 2009 they bred 32 Komodo Dragons.

I honestly feel that Ranugan is bigger but I would say that Surabaya appears to be one of the nicest and caring collections I saw on Java, Indonesia.

This is one of a series of zoo reports that was actually included within my travel journal ‘The Itinerant ZooKeeper’. Initially I started to extract the zoo data but found the reading was diminished by it. So look on it as a zoo travelogue. The only major edits I have done is a little censoring and to remove the Casanova exploits.

Statue in front of Surabaya Zoo

In local dialect the word 'Sura' means shark and 'baya' means crocodile. It is local legend that these two beasts fought for supremacy.

In local dialect the word 'Sura' means shark and 'baya' means crocodile. It is local legend that these two beasts fought for supremacy.

Friday 7th July 2006
Surabaya. Made it at last. All return from here. It took another seven and a half hour bus journey but, as I thought it would take much longer I was quite pleased. It was a local bus stopping in every town and village along the way and hugging the edge of the Javan sea where it could. It was one of those 'wow' journeys and made all the more enjoyable because I was not feeling ill. The hour long rickshaw drive to the bus station made me feel special. I lost count of the number of waves and shouts of "hello mister" and/or "goodbye mister". I certainly helps keep ones mind off the choking black exhaust fumes.

The bus was naturally visited at every hint of a stop by all manner of opportunist from pencil traders to recipe book salesmen or Koran reciters. Naturally there were the musicians, fairly good, bad and indifferent. I was starting to think it was strange that we never got any females when one boarded. She had a passable voice and sang some sort of folk song, accompanying herself with two pebbles in a Yakult carton. This was just a girl from the rice paddies but with a flair to be different. Her choice of clothes, way of dress and colour coordination set her apart from the rest of civilisation. A natural hippie, born to lead. I hope she does.
To make the ride even better another girl boarded about an hour later. Bit of ingenuity here as her husband/partner had a sort of mobile karaoke machine with Javanese music to which the girl sang. Now the girl, baby on hip was dressed in traditional clothes but to make it all the better she was hauntingly beautiful. The sort of face I could look at for a year and a day and never get bored. Memorable!

We passed thousands of acres of rice fields in various stages of preparation up to planting. I was surprised to see small windmills made out of bamboo pumping water up levels of paddy. In other places this was done by bucket on the end of a long bamboo lever.

The fishing boats were numerous and though faded were colourful. I watched catches being passed through the surf by human chain to the shore. The houses were different, having very odd pointed tiles running along the spines of the roofs. I passed a Muslim graveyard where all the headstones had been painted bright and different colours. It looked like a rainbow sprouting from the ground. A happy place.

There were Chinese fishing nets (only seen once since Cochin in India) set along the sides of some creeks.
And so so much more. It was a great trip.

I chose a hotel at random but very nearly didn't check in. "Could I see the room?" No! "Why?" Because the room keys are sealed in little plastic envelopes that cannot be opened without paying for the room. "What an utterly stupid idea! I am certainly not going to part with money for something which may turn out to be a hole!" They wasn't up to much anyhow and it wasn't till later in the evening I discovered there was a disco next door to my room. Different building, but just a sick brick away.


Saturday 8th July 2006
It wasn't the best of nights but I did get some sleep. If I hadn't already put my clothes into the laundry I would look for somewhere quieter today.
A knock on the door at eight. A young lady bringing breakfast. This consisted of two glasses of herbal tea and two chocolate donuts....oh and the offer of a morning massage as well.....

I took a taxi to the Surabaya Zoo. As it turned out it was just up the road and I could have walked there within ten minutes.
Huge great big statue of a Crocodile and Shark battling at the entrance. I don't know what this signifies because I have seen it depicted elsewhere (explanation given below photograph above).
The zoo was much smaller than I had imagined it to be. Tiny compared to Ragunan. It was very old fashioned in many aspects but on the whole I liked it. What I liked especially was seeing the elephants, unchained wandering about in their paddock. Granted it wasn't the largest of paddocks, but they did have liberty of sorts. Two other animals not in the paddock were in a smaller barred holding pen. Another big plus on the fact they were unchained and together. Forward thinking is apparent here. The mahouts should be seconded out to other Indonesian zoos for a time.

The Palm Civets were in a nocturnal exhibit. Good. The exhibits were big enough. Good. There were token branches but not enough of them. Whatever they put in would have to be very sturdy because all these Palm Civets were obese. They desperately needed to go on a diet.

As follows on from the Palm Civet gauge there were other animals that needed a diet too and the enrichment/decoration was token or lacking except where living trees formed part of the exhibit. So it followed on from there that where primates were on lake islands they were very lucky, those on house islands less so and those in cages looked and were utterly miserable. The cages were that same old Victorian menagerie design. I thought that with just a little bit of know how and input they could be transformed from sterile little boxes to something that provided a modicum of comfort and food for the mind. As things stand the only environmental enrichment the animals appeared to be getting was visitors with peanuts. Happily there was not a shortage of either. There was a queue coming into the zoo when I arrived and they were still coming in thick and fast when I left. Definitely a popular spot. I don't see it every day, but today they were making money. There was a separate charge for the aquarium too.

There were some attractive, colourful modern signs sponsored by Walls Ice Cream but these were limited to direction. There were signs on some of the cages but these were well past their sell by date, were flaking and letters obscured.

The main Komodo Dragon enclosure was the best I have seen. Nice to have trees and grass. Impressive looking animals too, comparable in size to those in Yogya. The smaller enclosures were okay too.

There was a large walk through aviary. At over 70 foot tall it must be the highest I have seen. Sadly it was closed and had been for some little while that I could see. Again when I see big aviaries like this I think wonderful, they have an appreciation of a birds need for space. It doesn't work out like that though as some of the birds here were in pokey horrible little dives and this included some of the Birds of Prey which makes it worse still.

The main Lion enclosure was fine as was the White Tiger and the Cheetah. Where was the Cheetah though? That enclosure was full of Lions. Inevitably there were Sumatran Tigers and other cats tucked away in far from satisfactory housing.

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There was a big bunch of Proboscis Monkeys on two of the islands. I wasn't sure whether they were one migrating group (the islands were very close) or two separate lots. I could not see that there was anything other than water keeping them on the islands anyway and knowing their aquatic abilities wondered if any had gone exploring. Actually though the size of the turtles in the water would be enough to stop me thinking of putting even a toe in the water let alone anything else. There were either Timor or Bawean Deer on the island with the Proboscis. There were also Axis and Sambar dotted around in far too small enclosures.
Talking of large turtles, in one of the outside pools next to the aquarium were three absolutely huge Green Turtles. I have not seen bigger anywhere. Close by was another pool containing another ten more 'normal' sized ones.

Adding a further dimension to my Padmelon/Agile Wallaby mystery was the group here. This time Agiles and a nice breeding group of thirty or so. Horrible boring little enclosure though. So perhaps they were Agiles back in Bandung after all. The only other Kangaroos here were Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus ursinus). They looked fine and at least had the opportunity to go up a dimension even if the enclosure was a bit small.

Again there were Capybaras here. I suppose either supplied to Gembira Loka or vice versa. There was even a couple of Kulan! By what route they arrived is a bit of a wonder. None in the UK any longer.

Lots of Hippos. You could see this, like so many places is starting to become a problem. I reiterate that some sort of breeding management programme is essential now.
The Sun bears had a bigger pit than usual but it was still horrible though. I really can't comprehend why it is deemed necessary to make life so mind numbingly nasty for bears. Bugger all to do. When I recall all the wonderful work done for bears by Dave Ware and his colleagues up in Cambodia with next to no cash it just makes it seem all the more tragic.
There were a couple of American Black bears here too in an equally boring environment. Mind you it was the same for the Jaguars, Leopards, Tigers and other unfortunates on this block of cages.

The group of Sitatunga were a surprise. Again lots of Camels. Very few Cassowary. Javan Warty Pigs. The Otter enclosure was nice...especially compared to those seen recently. There were crap Orangutans enclosures and some good ones too. The Chimpanzees looked happy enough but oh gosh, do I hate these drop moats. The Hornbill aviaries were high enough to allow the birds some privacy otherwise they were too small and people could get right round.
Once again a sorry little Orangutans standing waiting to have his photo taken with people. I've said my piece but I still don't like it.

The aquarium was light years ahead of most of the 'zoo' aquariums I have seen over the past year but still in the dark ages compared to the specialist aquariums like the Siam Paragon. That said they are operating in rather primitive 19th Century sort of set up. It put me in mind a bit of the old, old (yes two) Al Ain aquarium. I am sure that their aquarist, whoever he/she is would put on an extraordinary show given modern facilities. Presently there are some nice fish and some clever decoration. Even Black tip reef sharks here as well. I have tremendous admiration and praise for whoever is managing the tanks.

Outside there were some reptile exhibits which varied rather a lot. There were a few Green Iguanas including the most magnificent male specimen I have ever seen. Not the biggest by a long way but just so perfect. He was accompanied by another Iguana which I did not fully recognise though something in the back of my mind said it was something special.
They were obviously doing well with Green Iguanas because they had a whole bunch of babies too. These, I thought may be the back up forces for the Red-eared Terrapins as they slowly take over the world.

The close by 'Nocturna' or nocturnal house was quite well lit compared to some I have seen though there wasn't a great deal in there apart from the Palm Civets though except a Pangolin! The first I have seen on this journey.

I suppose they do it all the time in some parts of the world, but nowhere that I have been so far. That is Camels pulling carts. There is one lumbering round Surabaya zoo towing up to thirty people at a time. I think he makes a pretty good job of it too. I never saw one do this in the Middle East in spite of all the years I spent there.

I suppose it does help that most of the roads within the zoo are in fairly good repair.
One thing I have noticed is within the zoos I visit I am not just an object of curiosity to the people but to the animals too. I see them see me and I can almost hear them thinking "Oh look, here comes one with a pointed nose!" So they lumber across to make a closer examination.

People in the zoo were so very friendly. They invited me to sit and eat with them or just to stop and talk. They smiled, they laughed, they flirted and were generally wonderful. I know I have said it about all the nations I have passed through but the Indonesian people truly are the most friendly of all.


 I don't know why it took me quite so long to realise an unwritten truth but today I did. Pavements for most of the world are where, theoretically, the road ends. They have little or nothing to do with an area set aside for pedestrians to safely perambulate. It really is safer to walk on the roads in spite of the attendant risks.

Well that’s a bugger. I spent an hour on the internet trying to book a flight from Singapore to Bangkok without any luck. I then went to the railway station to book a train back to Jakarta for tomorrow or the next day and couldn't get one unless I go tonight. The whole plan as to travel back in the day so I could look at the scenery so that’s gone. I had already paid for my room tonight and so that’s gone too. I don't want to risk missing my flight back to Singapore though and if the worst comes to the worst I can bus it to Bangkok from there. I feel cheated in a way but not as bad as I would if I wasn't there to meet Olivia next week.

Photo by:

Photo by:

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Surabaya Zoo Videos



Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 14, 2011:

Thank you mamang rahmandar

mamang rahmandar on July 11, 2011:

this place in my city .. i work in surabaya tourist information center. and i read your article and i am very happy that you enjoyed to visit surabaya zoo. hope you will back to surabaya again and i will tell you more about interesting tourism objects in surabaya. :) you will love every corner of surabaya.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 24, 2009:

mercon - you should be proud because the Indonesian people are amongst the most friendly I have met in my travels.

mercon on November 24, 2009:

this place in my country....

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 14, 2009:

dohn121 - Surabaya was like a breath of spring air after some of the others. I still remember the girl on the bus. I remember womens beauty and unusual eyes seemingly forever. Though I still find interesting women more attractive.

Poor little Palm Civets...they get a rough deal nearly everywhere.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 14, 2009:

hafeezrm - It is alaways difficult to get 'night and day' cycles right for animals. The best I have seen is in Sharjah Zoo in the UAE. Thank you for your comment.

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on November 13, 2009:

I really like the monument at the beginning of this article, Peter. I sure would have liked to see that girl on the bus as well. Overall, it sounds as if you enjoyed your visit at Surabaya Zoo. Thanks so much as always! (and tell those Palm Civets to jump on a treadmill).

hafeezrm from Pakistan on November 13, 2009:

Nice article as usual by Peter. I visited Surabaya Zoo way back in 1974. Even at that time, it was great. I specially remember, an enclosure called "animal at night".

The animals were conned into believing that it was night when it was broad daylight. They were found sleeping in their natural way.

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