Ah Meng was a female Sumatran orang utan and a tourism icon of Singapore. Smuggled from Indonesia in 1971, she was recovered and given a home in the Singapore Zoo. The matriach of the zoo's orang utan clan, she became a famous icon when pictures of her where used in posters that were released worldwide. She was also the icon for the importance of protecting the natural habitats of Orang Utans. Conferred the 'Special Tourism Ambassador' by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1992, Ah Meng led a prestigious life till she passed away in 2008, at the age of 48.
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I was so young when my family owned an annual pass to the zoo, all I knew back then was animals and "big monkey".
Although the impression of my visits to the zoo were not lasting ones, the impression of ah meng was one I remembered. She impressed me with the tricks she was able to achieve and I remember having breakfast with her (one of the key attractions of the zoo back then).
It was only later on when I grew up, I found out about her passing. I guess old memories cannot be relived, only revived through the passing of things and the remembrance of them.
Ah Meng was my idol when I was a kid. No, not the way you think kids romanticise about idols in an adoring fashion. I was really impressed that an orang utan was able to achieve international fame and success while stuck in an enclosure eating bananas. I asked my dad if that was possible for human beings too, but given that it was the year 1999, he just gave me a weird look. Nowadays, its completely possible to do so with a computer and internet and being at home 24/7, amazing how much has changed in 15 years.
I was 8 years old when I first saw Ah Meng. My school took us on an excursion to the zoo and we watched an acrobatic performance by the orang utans. Ah Meng lumbered around, cool as you please, the matriarch of an entire clan of orang utans. It was really amazing the way she could get her charges in line and execute the maneuvers they have been trained in. Moreover, she exhibited care for the clan, when the trainer gave her some bananas, she calmly passed to one of the younger ones.
I ended my visit with a free poster of her, too bad she couldn't autograph it.
I felt really sad hearing about her passing back in 2008. The zoo really lost a significant being, it was tragic. But I took comfort in that she had lived a long and fruitful life, passing away the age of 48! She'll always be a part of Singapore culture, and a symbol of the Zoo in my eyes.