THE zoo's telephone rang non-stop yesterday and its operator promptly developed a sore throat and fever.
The cause? More than 150 callers who wanted to find out more about a new attraction enticingly called Aerobics with Ah Meng.
For $20, visitors to the zoo could work out with Ah Meng before feasting on delights such as goat's milk and mock ham for breakfast.
Little did they know that the report on Page 3 of yesterday's Straits Times was an April Fools' Day gag, devised by the zoo's chief executive, Mr Bernard Harrison.
Throughout the day, people called in wanting to book a session with the 34-year-old orang utan. These included a Japanese tour agency wanting to fax details to its head office in Japan and an expatriate who wanted a session for his aerobics-enthusiast wife.
Doing her best to field these enquiries was Ms Alice Tan, senior receptionist and operator at the zoo.
At the end of one of her most tiring days at work, she croaked: "Never before had there been so many calls in a single day. The phone became so hot, it was like putting an iron to my face!"
While most callers reacted well when told it was a joke, a handful became angry, she said.
There were clues in the story to hint that it might be a gag. For example, the zoo has no private farm which produces eggs or goat's milk. The name of the businessman mentioned in the story, Mr Tarik K. Aki, means "pull leg" in Malay.
Mr Harrison said: "It started off as a joke, but maybe there's a market for this judging from the response we've had. We might introduce a similar programme at a later date."
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Apr 2, 1998.