Bringing animal conservation messages to the theme park
by Martin Palicki
[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]S[/dropcap]ince 1977, Ocean Park Hong Kong has been entertaining guests with its unique blend of animal habitats and thrill rides. Built into and around a mountain the park is divided into two distinct and separate areas. Guests must take either the Ocean Express, a tram ride through the mountain, or a cable car to transit between the two areas. With the South China Sea nearly surrounding the park, views are stunning and panoramic vistas are abundant.
The natural beauty is matched by the splendid assortment of animals kept at the park, in evocative habitats that reinforce educational messages of conservation. Although the park does tend to focus on aquatic life, it doesn’t do so exclusively. Pandas, birds, and rainforest creatures are part of the offerings as well.
The built environments make the most of opportunities to bring people and animals into proximity and sometimes in unexpected ways, such as dining options that allow guests to view animals while they eat. The popular Tuxedos restaurant features a penguin viewing area and a penguin-shaped pizza while Neptune’s offers aquarium-side seating.
The park also has a variety of rides and shows designed to appeal to a wide age range, with kiddie rides balanced by thrilling roller coasters. In our opinion, a dark ride would help to round out the attraction roster.
For additional fees, guests have the opportunity to get close to the animals in their habitats and learn more about what affects them.
During a recent visit, I had the opportunity to experience the Seal Encounter with Taylor Jeffs from Gary Goddard Entertainment. Our private tour began with a guide teaching us about the different types of seals and where they live around the world. She helped us understand more about the specific breed of seal we were about to meet.
We also talked about what problems humans have created for seals, and more importantly, what things we could do everyday to help minimize those impacts. As one may expect, the impacts largely come from global warming and water temperature shifts. The guide was helpful without being overbearing.
Next, we suited up in chest-height waders and met our trainer who would take us in to meet the seal. Once in the water the trainer called a seal over and gave us opportunities to feel her fur and discover the basics of seal anatomy. We posed for a photo with the seal and then were given an opportunity to feed the seals some fish.
Perhaps the most magical moment came at the end. As we waved goodbye, the entire group of seals waved their flippers back at us – a trick they had been taught individually, and now performed en masse.
The encounter program was a highlight of our visit and one of the more unique elements of Ocean Park. It was a real connection moment, teaching us about an animal we didn’t know much about. It brought the whole experience together, leaving us with smiles on our faces as we headed back out into the real world. • • •
For more information, visit http://www.oceanpark.com.hk/