Simply put, Avilon is the country’s biggest and best zoo. In my humble opinion, no other zoo comes close.
I love animals, keeping a few reptiles as pets, and I’ve heard from other hobbyists that Mr. Jake Gao, owner of Avilon Zoo and Ark of Avilon, was once just a hobbyist himself. Starting off with a few exotic pets, rumor has it that his collection grew so large that he at one time kept a pair of lions at his home in White Plains, Quezon City! Talk about a stressful situation for the neighbors. 😆
Finding it increasingly difficult to house his ever expanding collection at home, he decided to convert his 7.5 hectares of land in Montalban, Rizal into the Avilon Zoo that we know today. As a fellow hobbyist on a much, much…much, much, much, much smaller scale, Avilon Zoo, for me, is the country’s best not just for its sheer size, but for the diversity of its collection as well.
Hobbyists tend to collect as many morphs of one animal as they can. The finch, a popular hobby pet that comes in many different color patterns, is a prime example of that. Here at Avilon, there must have been at least twenty different varieties of finch on display. Amazingly, that’s just one species of bird. So many are the animals here in fact, that the place looks and feels like a hobbyist’s collection gone haywire. If you think about it, that’s pretty much what this place is, since Mr. Gao is essentially still a hobbyist at heart.
Despite not having any of the larger, more common zoo animals like elephants, rhinos, or giraffes (at least not yet), I find Avilon to be incredibly fascinating, unlike any other zoo that I’ve been to. Truly a world-class facility, it’s been several years since our last visit, so we couldn’t wait to come back and see just how much more Mr. Gao’s collection had grown.
If you’ve never been there before, it can be difficult to find, so I’ve included detailed DRIVING DIRECTIONS at the bottom of this post.
Welcome to Avilon!
Soon as you go through the turnstile, you’ll find yourself at the only full-service restaurant at the zoo, which is flanked on one side by a large, manmade lake. Swimming in the lake’s murky, brown waters are the zoo’s largest Arapaima (Arapaima gigas) specimens, which for PHP 100 a bucket, you can feed with these severed chicken heads. Can you think of a more badass, more exhilarating way to whet a zoo goer’s appetite? I can’t. 😈
When we last visited Avilon Zoo several years ago, they had four large Arapaimas in the lake, each well over six feet long. Today, we spotted five. I know it’s impossible for you to tell just how big these guys are without reference, but trust me, they’re HUGE. 😯
While Ren and Sep threw in chicken heads, I tried to get the perfect mouth-agape, “JAWS” money shot. This wasn’t quite it, but you can appreciate the power with which these guys attack the food. Awesome! 😈
Better, but not quite it…
Yes! There you go baby! 😀
Avilon has a pretty amazing collection of reptiles, many of which are housed in a climate-controlled room containing row upon row of terrariums. Reptiles have high heat and humidity requirements, so it can get pretty uncomfortable in there. All the animals were behind glass, with most camped out in hides or buried under leaf litter, so it was difficult to get decent photos. Here are just a few of the countless reptiles that you can find here at Avilon.
Philippine Sailfin Dragons (Hydrosaurus pustulatus) chillin’ in the ring-shaped pond encircling the zoo’s main sign.
A pair of pond turtles
A type of varanid or monitor lizard, who evidently likes to scratch the glass.
Beautiful but deadly Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)
With its narrow, elongated snout, this looked to be some spinach-eating form of Gharial Crocodile. Kidding. That’s duckweed all over its mouth.
African Spurred Thigh Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata). Fairly common in the exotic pet trade, the sulcata is the third largest species of tortoise in the world, after the Galapagos and Aldabra Giant Tortoises.
Most of the zoo’s larger mammals are pictured here, though there are a few notable absences like the Malayan tapir, lions, black bears, Malayan sun bear, and pygmy hippo. They were either asleep, in isolation, or not photographed well enough.
Together with the panda, dolphin, and koala, the Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) has got to be one of the most charming, charismatic animals in the world. Standing upright like this, how can you not fall in love with this adorable little dude? 😀
Not to be outdone, this Prairie Dog (Cynomys sp.), which kind of looks like a plump meerkat, says: “Hey, I can do that too!”
L: Can a meerkat do this?! R: 😕
They had an entire “Farmland” section here with domesticated animals like goats, sheep, horses, geese, pigs, etc. For a small fee, you could feed them if you like.
If I’m not mistaken, this cute little bugger with the oversized ears is a Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda). A desert dweller, their unusually large ears dissipate heat.
I’m not sure if this spotted beauty is a leopard or a jaguar.
A different cat from the one above, this leopard or jaguar kept pacing around in its enclosure. A sign of distress maybe? 🙁
Gorgeous White Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
I just ate Pi. Look…
Though big cats are never my favorite zoo residents, this pair of Sumatran Tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is responsible for making today’s trip truly unforgettable. At first, they seemed oblivious to the world, playfully pawing each other and nuzzling like kittens. I got close to the cage and photographed their interaction.
The bigger dude on the right was aware of my presence, but didn’t seem to mind. I sidled up and leaned on the fence to get as close a shot as possible.
With my eye in the viewfinder and fully focused on the big guy, I was startled by a sudden blur accompanied by a thunderous, spine-chilling roar, so I stepped away from the fence as quickly as I could. Like a lightning bolt, the other cat was standing fully erect, claws out and draped over the area of fence where I was just standing. A terrifying eight feet tall, he stayed in that position for a few seconds, as if to say: “I may be in this cage, but I am not harmless. I am still a tiger. Respect my space, or I will fuck you up.” Holy Jesus.
I really wish I had gotten a picture of him leaning against the cage like that, in full pounce mode with just a fence keeping him from killing me. As you can imagine, we were all in shock by what just happened (with me shaking off the urine dripping down my leg), so none of us had the presence of mind to take a picture. An unforgettable experience to say the least, it was a sobering reminder to ALWAYS respect these animals, and to NEVER let your guard down. 😯
Dominant male orangutan with large cheek flaps
Thanks for posing for me big guy. 🙂
There were four species of gibbon living in this beautiful enclosure, so I’m not entirely sure what this one was.
Made unhappy by our presence, he got up and walked away, looking almost human in his stride. It was incredible.
With primates that walk bipedally like this, it’s no wonder that myths about primitive, human-like cryptids like Orang Pendek are fabricated.
Though one of the smallest creatures in the zoo, these tamarins and marmosets are huge on charm and charisma. About the size of tarsiers, these little guys are ridiculously cute! 😀
This tamarin kept flicking his tongue at the zookeeper. Unsure at first what he wanted, it all made sense when the zookeeper stuck a piece of fruit in his mouth. Adorable! ♥
Gimme gimme gimme fruit!
He looks like a little shaman doesn’t he?
Just as small and agile, this Red-Handed Tamarin (Saguinus midas) was adorable as well.
Without question, the most widely represented animals at Avilon are the birds. Mr. Gao has an incredible collection, from large, raptor-like ostriches to the tiniest finches. Here are just a few.
Not sure what this beautiful creature was. Some type of peahen?
I don’t know what this was either, but it was striking. Judging by its bald head, it may have been some kind of vulture.
Large, flightless birds
Luzon Bleeding-Heart (Gallicolumba luzonica). Gorgeous little thing, isn’t she?
Thanks again Avilon for yet another, unforgettable experience! You are, without question, the best.
So how different was this 2013 version of Avilon Zoo from the one that we visited several years ago? To be honest with you, I don’t really remember. 😆
One thing for certain though is that the resident beasts seem very well cared for and healthy. We didn’t see a single malnourished or sickly animal. Exceptionally well-designed, not only are the enclosures beautiful to look at, but they appear to provide enough space for the animals as well. Construction was ongoing, telling us that the zoo continues to expand, maintain, and improve their facilities, which is very encouraging. In fact, I read somewhere that they’re looking to add giraffes to their collection soon, a rumor supported by a very tall enclosure that’s presently being built at the heart of the mammals section. Though I’m not really into the larger mammals, giraffes make a terrific addition to any zoo.
One thing I found odd though was the lack of visitors. We went on a Sunday, so I was anticipating much larger crowds, but the place felt almost desserted. I asked one of the maintenance people why that was, and he basically just shrugged his shoulders and said that the number of visitors can be unpredictable. Sometimes there are a lot, other times like today, very few. In any case, I do hope that today was an unusually slow day, and not a fair representation of how things usually are around here.
Avilon is a fantastic zoo, hands down the best in the country for me. It’s a world-class facility that we Filipinos can really be proud of. If you’ve never been, then I strongly encourage you to visit soon. You won’t regret it. 😉
If you can’t make it all the way to Montalban just yet, then you’ll be pleased to know that they have a much smaller, indoor facility called Ark of Avilon in Frontera Verde, Pasig. Though nowhere near as grand as this one, it’s still a fun way to spend a couple of hours in the presence of animals.
Barangay San Isidro, Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal
Tel: 948-9866 / 941-8393 / 941-8530
Operating Hours: Mon-Fri: 8AM-5PM, Sat-Sun: 8AM-6PM
Zoo Entrance Rates
Regular entrance fee: PHP 400
Children shorter than the counter: PHP 300
Infants 12 months and below: FREE
Senior citizens and PWDs: 20% discount
Advanced tickets (tickets purchased here or at Ark of Avilon prior to your day of visit): Less PHP 100
How to Get There
It’s easy to get lost looking for the zoo. Many of the driving directions and maps online are confusing, so I tried making these directions as precise and easy to understand as possible. From the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue, the entire trip, with little to no traffic, should take you around 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Drive northbound on EDSA.
- Turn RIGHT at Quezon Avenue and continue until you reach the Elliptical Road/Quezon Memorial Circle.
- Drive along the circle and turn RIGHT at Commonwealth Avenue.
- Continue towards Fairview, whilst keeping an eye out for the Sandiganbayan building on your right. Once you see it, prepare to make a RIGHT onto Batasan Road, which is the street right before the Sandiganbayan building.
- Stay on the right side while driving along Batasan Road, then turn RIGHT onto Batasan-San Mateo Road.
- Drive the entire length of Batasan-San Mateo Road, then turn LEFT at the end onto Gen Luna Avenue.
- Continue driving along Gen Luna Avenue, which will turn into JP Rizal Avenue.
- Turn RIGHT onto MH del Pilar Street, which is at the very end of J.P. Rizal Avenue.
- Continue along MH del Pilar until you see a Total Gas Station on your right side. As soon as you pass the gas station, make the very first LEFT that you see, onto C Reyes Street. It will be almost immediately after the gas station.
- Continue driving along this street, which will shortly turn into a bumpy, narrow, dirt road. Follow this dirt road to Avilon Zoo.
TIP: DO NOT go to Avilon Zoo during or after a rainy day. The final stretch of dirt road becomes very wet and slippery, and there’s a good chance that your car will get stuck in the mud.