KUALA LUMPUR: The mention of rodents usually conjures up images of dirty grey rats, condemned as little carriers of contagious bacteria scurrying in alleyways.
As the Year of the Rat looms, a petting zoo in Malaysia is hoping to educate the public that rodents are more than just pests.
“They are so misunderstood. When you actually learn about them, you realise they’re cute, gentle and harmless,” said Mr Allan Phoon, CEO of Farm in the City.
The petting zoo, located on a 1.6ha land in Seri Kembangan, Selangor, houses a variety of animals ranging from alpacas to otters.
It first did a special exhibition featuring roosters, the Chinese zodiac animal of the year, in 2017, but skipped the two following years – Year of the Dog and Year of the Pig – out of respect for cultural differences in Malaysia.
“This year, in honour of the Year of the Rat, we have brought in 10 additional types of rodents from eight different countries, adding on to our existing 10 rodents for an exhibition,” Mr Phoon explained.
Having been an animal lover since he was a child, Mr Phoon said always wanted to educate people about animals.
“As a young boy who was born in Kuala Lumpur, I always looked forward to going to my uncle’s place in Kedah. The ‘kampung’ environment where cows and chickens roamed free amid the lush greenery made me happy.
“So when I was able to, I bought a 0.4ha land and put some farm animals there and realised people loved it. Eventually, we got this place eight years ago,” he recounted.
While the rooster exhibition taught children that chickens are not just food, the rodent exhibition aimed at showing them the different rodents in the world.
“Rodents are not limited to the grey rats you see in alleyways. There are so many types of rodents and people might not even know some belonged to the order,” Mr Phoon said.
LARGEST RODENT IN THE WORLD
The rodent exhibition was spread out across the petting zoo. One of the rodents featured was capybara, the largest rodent in the world.
Imported from the Amazon, the three capybaras which have just been released from quarantine earlier this month appeared to be the stars of the show.
The two four-month-old babies are the size of a puppy, while the four-year-old female is almost as big as a mongrel.
“The babies can weigh up to 40kg while an adult capybara can weigh up to 80kg. This one is small because she’s a female,” Mr Phoon said, pointing at the adult capybara.
Besides the capybaras, the chinchillas from South America were also a crowd favourite. Slightly larger than a squirrel, their furry coat, tiny eyes and busy tails made them appealing to children.
Visitors could be seen waiting excitedly for their turn to carry the chinchillas.
The other eye-catching rodent was the black-tailed prairie dog, which resembles a regular squirrel but is larger in size.
Another type was the Patagonian mara, a long-legged rodent that could be easily confused with a kangaroo.
Mr Phoon said the rodents would be on display throughout the entire year.
"THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER"
Visitors to the petting zoo had a great time getting up close with the rodents.
An eight-year-old boy, who only gave his name as Rahmat, exclaimed: “This is the best day ever!”
“My favourite is the capybaras. I got to touch them but they are too big for me to carry,” he said.
His mother, who only wanted to be known as Mdm Anna Farina, shared that Rahmat and his two siblings are fascinated with rodents. “So we are happy that they got to come here and learn,” she said.
Mdm Louisa Kuruc, who was on holiday with her family from Melbourne, Australia, said it was great for a petting zoo to feature such an exhibition.
“Most of the time you go to petting zoos and they have many different animals typically found in their country, but to do a whole exhibition on rodents is quite nice.
“I’m not a big fan of rats or rodents but my boys love it, especially Sebastian,” she said, gesturing at her two-year-old son.