October 4 is the feast day of San Francisco de Asis. The day is also recognized as the World Animal Day. That day was chosen because of the ecological reverence for nature and the animal world on the part of a holy man who sang of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, who once preached a sermon to the birds and gave absolution to a wolf.
A great way to celebrate this day for God’s awesome creatures is to spend it at the Manila Zoological and Botanical Gardens along Adriatico Street in Manila. Aside from the reasonable collection of animals, the Manila Zoo has several picnic areas and playgrounds including an interactive fountain. Visitors may interact with animals at the Kinder Zoo or paddle around a small lagoon on rented boats. One may also bring home knick knacks from the various souvenir shops.
The Saint of Ecology
The devotion to Saint Francis de Assisi was introduced to us by the Order of Friar Minors or Franciscans. The Franciscans were the second group of friars that came to the Philippines (June 24, 1578) after the Augustinians. The Yglesia de San Francisco was one of the most popular churches along Calle Muralla in pre-war Intramuros. It has a patio on which two churches as well as the first Franciscan mother-house in the Philippines once stood.
The Franciscans shared many stories about the life of Saint Francis that shows his love for nature and animals. One famous story is recounted in the Fioretti or the Little Flower. The story goes that while traveling with companions, they saw a tree filled with birds. Saint Francis asked his companions to wait while he preaches to “sister birds.” Miraculously, the birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice and not one flew away while he delivers his sermon.
Another story is about a menacing wolf in the Italian town of Gubbio. Known to prey on other animals and men, the Wolf of Gubbio is widely feared. It is said that Saint Francis went up on a hills to find the savage creature. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the beast to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously, the wolf has been tamed. Saint Francis brought the wolf into the town. He explained to the town folks that the wolf had “done evil out of hunger.” The town folks then feed the wolf regularly and in return, the tamed wolf no longer preyed on their flocks. In this manner, the town of Gubbio was freed from the menacing predator.
It is also said that on his deathbed, Saint Francis thanked the donkey that carried and helped him throughout his life. Legend has it the donkey wept when the saint gave up his last breath.
Manila Zoo Attractions
Zoos are a mainstay in our travel itinerary, so a visit at Manila Zoological and Botanical Gardens is on us. The zoo opened its doors to the public on July 25, 1959.
Although we have heard feedback that the oldest zoo in the country is quite run-down and not being well- maintained, we still believe that the zoo serves as a perfect venue to learn interesting facts about the animal kingdom and an ideal place to appreciate the wonders of nature.
The Manila Zoo is not as big as Avilon Zoo in Montalban Rizal. But within its grounds are animals from the wild like the elephant, tigers, monkeys and hippo.
Like the Wildlife Rescue Center at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Nature Center, Manila Zoo also serves as sanctuary for endemic and indigenous Philippine animals like the Philippine crocodile, the Palawan porcupine, reticulated pythons, the Palawan bearded-pig and Palawan bearcat and deer.
I noticed that some added attractions which are not yet available when I last visited this zoo as a child several years ago. Aside from the animal collection, the Manila Zoo has been renovated making it more engaging and entertaining.
There are several playgrounds with slides, swings and monkey bars. An interactive fountain amuses both children and adults as they playfully avoid the water spitting from the fountain.
During grade school, I remember when we were asked to read the poem Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures) also known as Canticle of the Sun. In this poem, Saint Francis expresses his appreciation for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire and all of God’s creations personified in their fundamental forms. Saint Francis is the only known saint to have preached to men and beasts the universal responsibility of all creatures to praise God and the duty of men to be stewards of God’s creations.
Having a heart to care for animals begins as a child. The recently added Kinder Zoo is a petting zoo within the Manila Zoo. Similar to the activities at Malabon Zoo, the Kinder Zoo allows visitors to interact with animals.
At the Kinder Zoo, visitors are also given the opportunity to face and get rid of their fears of certain animals through touch and sense. Visitors can observe how these animals behave with humans around such as for those people with innate fear of reptiles or snakes, they can strike a pose with a baby crocodile or albino python.
For those children who wanted to experience striding on an animal, they can mount on a tortoise’s hard shell or miniature horse to get their pictures taken. All activities at the Kinder Zoo are meant to make people appreciate animals.
Although we still have a long way to be like Saint Francis in terms of his attitude towards the environment. But having a close encounter with animals in our zoos awakens our awareness that God has created a good and beautiful world that we need to protect and enjoy.