At 8.30 am on Saturday, April 9, while many top executives would be enjoying a leisurely start to their holiday weekend, Francis Low, Manila Ocean Park’s EVP and COO, was already with his team of animal trainers and park staff, getting ready for the day’s activities. After all, weekends are the busiest days for the country’s first world-class marine theme park and premiere educational entertainment destination.
It’s hardly surprising that Low would be hands-on when it comes to park operations, especially animal training and handling, being a certified professional animal trainer himself.
In fact, before eventually taking on the leadership role in Manila Ocean Park, he was first hired as a consultant by the holding company, China Oceanis Philippines, Inc., to conceptualize and set up its Birds of Prey Exhibit and All-Star Bird Show in a bid to expand the park’s attractions.
When he started to helm the MOP team, he set about designing the park experience in a way that encourages the same love for animals that he and his team have.
“We designed our attractions in line with three key pillars,” he reveals. “They have to be educational, interactive and experiential.”
With today’s more well-traveled and knowledgeable market for entertainment facilities such as theme parks, Low feels that these pillars help to differentiate Manila Ocean Park from similar establishments. “We try to give park visitors experiences that they can only have here, so they have something to bring home and tell others about.”
One such attraction is the Sea Lion Encounter. While there are similar sea lion shows in other countries, Manila Ocean Park enables guests to interact with its highly trained sea lions as they perform stunts or exhibit their skills. “When guests get up close and personal with the sea lions, they realize they aren’t scary and can be quite fun. These are moments… memories that they will remember for a long time.”
Advocates conservation awareness
Manila Ocean Park’s attractions are also geared to promote animal conservation.
“In the Philippines, conservation awareness is very high,” Low observes. “People’s efforts in saving certain species, protecting marine life and saving the trees, some with the help of LGUs and international organizations, are very noticeable.”
He also notes that since conservation is not a one-off thing but requires continuous effort and resources over many years before results can be seen, a lot of people may not choose to commit to it. “What is important is to make people understand that conservation has long-term benefits for many generations down the line.”
One of the park’s conservation activities is its “Back to the Wild” program wherein juvenile white-spotted bamboo sharks are bred and raised safely in the park’s facilities, and then released back to the coasts in cooperation with government agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, and local government units.
“With the help of NGOs, we scope out areas and ensure that these are ideal for the bambo sharks to thrive, then we release them. We also tagged them to see how they are faring. We hope to hold another releasing this year.” shares Low.
Leads with heart
Low’s first few months after he took over the management of Manila Ocean Park in 2011 was all about getting a feel for the local culture. He shares, “I did not do a lot major changes. I blended in: I tried to understand Filipinos, Filipino culture and the way things are done here. By understanding these, it’s easier to put in certain ideas to my team and get them to support the strategies.”
He is proud of the park’s employees and the concern they demonstrated for the park and its animal charges during the height of the pandemic when the park was closed down and he was away in his home country of Singapore. “There was a time when two of the sea lions got sick but we couldn’t get medicine because all the pharmacies are closed. It was a very scary moment for us. I’m so glad that staff proved to be very caring: they went to the canals, sat beside the sea lions to coax them to eat. Because of their care, the two sea lions recovered.”
This care extended throughout the time when the park was closed down due to the community quarantine, but the trainers and staff simulated shows, despite the absence of audiences, so as not to stress the animals from the break from their routine.
He even boasts of how Manila Ocean Park’s security guards expanded their role beyond ensuring safety within the park by familiarizing themselves with the park’s various packages and pricing so that they can recommend attractions to the park visitors.
“I consider myself blessed that I have key leaders and key staff who go all out to make very good experiences for the guests, care for the park and the animals. These are things that money can not buy.”
By 6pm, activities within the park wind down but Mr. Low and his team are still seen up and about, assisting guests or overseeing operations. This routine plays out for six days every week as the park slowly but surely reopens attractions and dining establishments to cater to the public who are ready for new experiences after a long time spent indoors during quarantine.
Manila Ocean Park is located within Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila, open from 10am to 6pm, Tuesdays to Sundays (even during Public Holidays). For more details about the park or to book your tickets, visit its website.
Check out my previous posts about Manila Ocean Park: