Arcade games. movies. playground. Food court. Ticked all the boxes and running out of ideas on where to take the kids, now that it’s school break again?
How about IOI City Farm, where instead of pinball machines and rides, they can cuddle cute ducklings, feed furry rabbits, watch exotic fish glide, learn about various plant species and even try a spot of fishing?
The family-friendly attraction at IOI City Mall in Putrajaya, has three zones spread across two levels spanning 18,000 sq ft, where visitors can interact and engage in fun activities. Qualified staff are on hand, eager to share details about animal behavior or answer questions the young ones always seem to have about anything that moves.
Greenland, the first zone, houses an indoor collection of 111 living plant species. It comprises a Vertical Garden, an Urban Farm, a Glocave, Mystical Cave, Teeny-weeny Forest, Insectopia, Roots N Seeds and Season of Colours, featuring giant lotus structures. The highlight of this zone is Green Glades, an open terrarium concept representing a forest, where visitors can step up close for a quick look at different flora. The Vertical Garden has vegetables, herbs and fruit plants while Insectopia offers information on the role of insects and plants in the ecosystem.
Little Rimba, the second zone, is likely to be where children and adults alike will linger the longest. It highlights 17 animal species from around the world, among them the Bengal cat, marmoset, fennec fox, sugar glider, hedgehog, raccoon and chinchilla. Here is where you can entice a bouncy rabbit to stop and nibble a carrot strip, pet a guinea pig or cup a chick for an Instagram shot. Watch a group of baby meerkats huddle and roll; these social creatures cannot seem to get enough of each other. Over in the next enclosure, fluffy raccoons scamper around in endless play as the Ayam Serama, a coveted and the smallest breed of chicken in the world, peck a stone’s throw away.
A flight of stairs leads down to the 6,000 sq ft Freshwater World, where the wonders of marine life await. It is calming watching fish dart from one end of the pool to the other, with lights picking out flashes of fin and scale. There are more than 50 freshwater aquatic species in the 11,000-gallon tank, ranging from river giants such as the Amazonian arapaima and Amur sturgeon to tiny crustaceans such as vampire crab and bamboo shrimp. At the touch pool, dip your hand in the water for a feel of underwater creatures. Visitors can also feed the fish or grab a net and pail and start fishing. Zone three leads out to the atrium where one floor above is District 21, a “post-apocalyptic themed sports and recreation park, where visitors can climb, jump, ride, slide and fly”.
A farm in a mall will only work if the animals, fish and fowl stay healthy. Ensuring that these IOI “residents” do is a team of zoologists, aquarists and botanists led by manager Suphannsa Ong, who studied zoology and wildlife conservation before joining the company in January.
She sees the urban farm as “a huge step in the animal-keeping industry because we are dealing with livestock. It is very important to address all the issues involved and have teammates who are able to study animal behaviour, look into their nutritional and other needs, and always make things better for them”.
Zoos serve a conservation purpose, but unlike them, IOI City Farm has mostly small mammals and birds that Malaysians like to keep at home. The industry is booming and Ong hopes the farm can help get the facts out about what to do so these pets will be well cared for.
Using ball pythons (popular pets here) as an example, she says: “People don’t understand that as the snakes grow, we have to feed them more. When they get to a certain point, some owners just release them into the wild. This affects the ecosystem because these creatures compete for resources, shelter and nesting areas with other species.”
Besides giving visitors a different experience from what is commonly found in malls, the educational aspect is important, she adds, especially the emphasis on animal welfare. Much thought has gone into that at the farm, from its concept and habitat design to features that ensure the animals’ comfort.
First, the whole set-up is climate-controlled. Special glass has been put in place to soundproof enclosures and the lighting is designed such that it seems darker along the pathways. Lightbulbs that mimic sunlight were brought in to give certain animals the heat they need to survive and their keepers monitor that using temperature and humidity meters. Taking a leaf from zoo design, which has seen lots of research, the team also looked at how visitors can interact with the creatures without disturbing or stressing them unduly.
“The animals cannot really feel us and there is not much movement within their space,” says Ong, who grew up with hamsters, guinea pigs and chicks. “My grandfather would buy chicken liver and gizzard and cut them open to show us what those birds ate, why they need sand — to grind up their food — and give us other bits of information.”
Few city kids get such exposure nowadays. An indoor farm, for those who do not want to be out in the sun, is a good start to interacting with animals.
“We want to teach them not only to love animals, but to be loving towards people around us as well,” Ong continues. “When children are able to come up to the keepers to touch the creatures and actually tell us the facts we relate, it’s interesting for them. It helps build character and confidence.”
Plans for the farm include weekend workshops, where young visitors can learn to groom rabbits, for instance, or how carnivorous plants are symbiotic to insects. They might even get to take a chick or two home as a pet if the plans pan out.
The mall also hopes to have collaborations with local and agricultural bodies. For example, he wants to work with the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute to highlight that hydroponics is the future of farming: It is sustainable, does not require soil and can be done in a small space. More hydroponic systems will be installed in the farm barn as Mardi is keen to study the effect of lights on certain plants.
IOI City Farm opened on Aug 25, along with Phase 2 of IOI City Mall in Putrajaya. Ticket prices: RM48 for children/RM37 for adults (weekdays); RM58 for children/RM48 for adults (weekends). See more here.