Ponggol Zoo Opened

Monday, 31st December 1928

The Ponggol Zoo, situated at 10.5 mile Ponggol Road, by the sea. The 27-acre plot of land was purchased earlier in the year by Mr. William Lawrence Soma Basapa. Within 3 months, Mr Basapah converted a patch of mangrove swamp into an attractive zoo. It costed Mr Basapah about $30 a month to run it and he charges an entry free of $0.40 per person. The Zoo is laid out by the seaside promenade with a family rest house and cages that hold the animals. Some of the animals and birds were previously housed in Mr Basapah's large family bungalow in Upper Serangoon Road since 1922. Other animals were from all over the world like the Pelican from Australia, Lamas from India, Cappibara Pig from South American, Orang Utan from Borneo, Hakata Maru from South Africa and the monkey-eating eagle from Philippines.

Background: Mr. William Lawrence Soma Basapa (1893-1943) was a wealthy animal trader and land owner of Indian descent. Mr Basapa was the grandson of Hunmapah who migrated to Singapore in the mid-19th Century. Hunmapah was a moneyed man where he bought three adjoining properties along Race Course Road (numbers 35-39) soon after his arrival. He lived in one with his family and leased the others for income. Mr Basapa's father was Hunmah Somapah who studied in Saint Joseph’s Institution, a prestigious Roman Catholic school. Somapah was a more astute businessman than Mr. Basapa's grandfather. Hunmah Somapah amasses a large tracts of land in the Punggol, Rangoon Road, Tampines, Paya Lebar and Changi areas. Some of these were developed as plantations – fruit, rubber, and vegetables – by tenants. Some he used himself to develop commercial and residential buildings. He also let out tracts, at modest rents, to the poor of various races to develop cheap residential villages known locally as kampungs. One of these is named in Singapore history as Kampung Somapah or Somapah Village in Changi.

1937 Update: The Rural Board granted a licence to Ponggol Zoo and was renamed as the Singapore Zoological Gardens and Bird Park.

1942 Update: Just before the Japanese invasion, the zoo which housed about 200 animals and 2,000 birds was ordered by the British to close and the authorities were given just 24 hours to clear the area of birds and animals. The dangerous varieties of animals were killed, while harmless ones were released into the forest.

1948 Update: The land, inherited by trustees after Mr William Basapa's death in 1943,was sold to a private investor in 1948.

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