Farewell to a Bangkok institution

People having fun at Dusit Zoo Family Day in 1985, when tame animals were brought out of their cages to entertain children.

The gate of Kaodin Wana will close forever next Friday, so only seven more days remain for people to freshen up their memories of the country’s oldest and most cherished zoo.

Soon, the 1,300 animals will be temporarily relocated to six provincial zoos around the country while the construction of the new Dusit Zoo — the official name of Kaodin Wana — is under way in Klong 6, Pathum Thani. The new site is expected to open in three years.

Officially, Dusit Zoo opened in 1938. But its origin goes back to 1898 when King Rama V bought the land in the area east of the Grand Palace and built a personal botanic garden. The workmen dug a pond and the soil was piled up like a hill, which inspired the nickname kaodin, or a hill of soil. When flora grew and covered the area, the suffix wana, or forest, was added to the name.

After the Siamese Revolution, Field Marshall Plaek Pibulsonggram asked for royal permission to turn Kaodin Wana into a zoo and public park. Small animals were moved from other parks, starting with deer and monkeys, and in March 1938, Dusit Zoo was opened for the public.

Mali, the hippo, Jim, the elephant, Tik, the seal, or lovers on the paddle boats against the backdrop of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall — over the past 80 years, Kaodin has become a scene of many memories. Before the profusion of malls, this was where practically every Thai family brought their children on their first trip, a place of wonder and happiness for the young and old. As the city became more modern and people’s lifestyle changed, Kaodin Wana retained its old-school charm and quaint, peaceful appeal, making it an affordable destination in the heart of the city at a time when everything else became less affordable. And now that the clock is ticking down, more people than ever flock there to soak up its atmosphere one last time.

The Bangkok Post‘s archive has a thick file on Dusit Zoo. To remember this Bangkok institution, we reprint some of them here as a mark of farewell.

One of Kaodin’s perennial favourites, Mali the hippopotamus. Mali is seen here in 1978 with one of her babies. Today she’s 52, the longest-living hippopotamus in Asia.

The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall seen from Kaodin in 1979. This is a favourite photographic spot, then and now, with the imposing palace set against the pond and paddle boats.

An elephant performs at a parade in 1987.

Two children look at a crocodile in a photo from 1975.

A North Korean youth cultural troupe visiting Kaodin in 1980.

Schoolchildren play with a gibbon at an animal parade organised by the zoo in 1987.

Kaodin paddle boats are as iconic as its animals. This photo was taken in 1984, but the scene remains the same today – until next Friday.

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