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Visit(s)

25.01.2013

Again I had the oppor­tu­nity to visit Lon­don Zoo, so I went for the enclo­sures I hadn’t seen yet, and of course I had to see the new Pen­guin beach, adver­tised as England’s biggest pen­guin pool. There was quite a lot of work in progress, but that’s what hap­pens in many zoos dur­ing win­ter. Refur­bish­ment is mostly sched­uled when less vis­i­tors are expected, which is bet­ter for all, the labour­ers as well as the public.

Penguin beachWell, as the Pen­guin beach is close to the entrance I first had a look at this new enclo­sure. Indeed, it has a very large pool, which allows the pen­guins to ‘fly’ through the water over quite some dis­tance. The sev­eral view­ing win­dows pro­vide ample oppor­tu­nity to see the spec­ta­cle of these birds mov­ing rapidly below the water sur­face. The banks around the pool con­tain large plas­tic pipes that serve as nest­ing facil­i­ties. A con­sid­er­able num­ber of spec­i­mens of two pen­guin species are on dis­play, Hum­boldt pen­guin (Sphenis­cus hum­boldti), and black-​footed pen­guin (Sphenis­cus demer­sus), and one sin­gle North­ern rock­hop­per pen­guin (Eudyptes mose­leyi) called Ricky. Nev­er­the­less the size of the enclo­sure offers enough space for the ani­mals to have their own ter­ri­tory, when nec­es­sary. The Zoo exploits the attrac­tion of pen­guin beach to vis­i­tors to gen­er­ate addi­tional income. Next to the com­mon mer­chan­dise, there is a grand­stand to see the pen­guins go wild and dive through the water dur­ing daily feed­ing times. More­over, the Zoo has launched ‘Meet the Pen­guins’ encoun­ters where vis­i­tors can get up-​close with the pen­guins, and actu­ally touch the ani­mals, within pen­guin beach for £45 per per­son. Such ani­mal exploita­tion is not what I like to see in zoos, because I doubt if it really adds some­thing to the impor­tant edu­ca­tional mes­sage about nature con­ser­va­tion that zoos try to get across to the pub­lic. Peo­ple will absolutely remem­ber their moment of con­tact with the live ani­mals vividly, but will this expe­ri­ence not super­sede the mes­sage about the plight of these ani­mals in nature? But I may be wrong, of course.

Owl butterflyBut­ter­fly par­adise is a walk-​through enclo­sure that show­cases a vast array of but­ter­fly species. While walk­ing around in this envi­ron­ment you can enjoy not only the but­ter­flies, but there are also many beau­ti­ful plants, which the but­ter­flies feed upon. Although this enclo­sure was launched in May 2006, already in 1881 Lon­don Zoo cre­ated the first exhibit devel­oped exclu­sively for inver­te­brates. Most of the ani­mals kept there were but­ter­flies and moths, effec­tively mak­ing it the world’s first but­ter­fly house. They breed some but­ter­flies on the premises, but many have come as pupae from but­ter­fly farms in their native area. The Zoo sup­port these com­mu­nity busi­nesses because it gives local peo­ple a sus­tain­able income in a way that doesn’t fur­ther dam­age the for­ests. The enclo­sure design sup­posed to resem­ble a giant cater­pil­lar accord­ing to the Zoo’s web­site, and in a way it does. But to be per­fectly hon­est, when the orig­i­nal child­ish entrance (cater­pil­lar head) is miss­ing, I think it looks more like a tem­porar­ily enclo­sure — a green­house designed like a tun­nel. But as soon as you enter the enclo­sure you are over­whelmed by the hot and humid envi­ron­ment, and the colour­ful dis­play of flut­ter­ing lit­tle crea­tures. The sound of ori­en­tal music adds to this atmosphere.

Sur­pris­ingly, as it was just a few degrees above 0 °C, a lot of ani­mals orig­i­nat­ing from warmer cli­mate could be seen in their out­door enclo­sure, even when they had the choice between indoors and out­doors. For instance the lions, the ser­vals, the Suma­tran tigers and a horn­bill seemed to enjoy the cold weather. The squir­rel mon­keys were the only pri­mates I saw in their out­doors facil­i­ties, the walk-​through enclosure.

One of the major under­tak­ings at the moment within Lon­don Zoo is the con­struc­tion of the new tiger enclo­sure, called Tiger Ter­ri­tory. This new tiger exhibit is being built around one side of the Cas­son Pavil­ion, and will be 5 times big­ger than the cur­rent enclo­sure for Suma­tran tigers. It is sched­uled to open in March this year, and from what I could see of the work in progress it con­tains a rather large pool and the size will indeed be a huge improve­ment for the Pan­thera tigris suma­trae.

The Black­burn Pavil­ion is a rede­vel­op­ment of the bird house that once was a rep­tile house. They turned this old build­ing into a won­der­ful mod­ern birds exhibit with in the entrance hall sev­eral small aviaries, but behind this area you will find a walk-​through exhibit with free fly­ing trop­i­cal birds, includ­ing trop­i­cal plants and a rain­for­est humid­ity. Out­side the Pavil­ion there are out­door aviaries where the horn­bill enjoyed the cold weather, which I men­tioned earlier.

The Zoos’ two Komodo drag­ons, star­ring in the lat­est James Bond movie ‘Sky­fall’, are kept sep­a­rate in two large indoor enclo­sures both with a small pond, tree trunks, bushes and shrubs, designed to resem­ble a dry river bed, the Dragon’s nat­ural habi­tat. The drag­ons also have access to a small out­door enclo­sure. Apart from being movie stars the drag­ons are sub­ject to research, con­ducted to see how often the drag­ons will go into the sun by mea­sur­ing UV radi­a­tion. The next door build­ing con­tain rep­tile and amphib­ian vivar­i­ums which are nice, but are just a row of small exhibits very sim­i­lar to many other zoos.

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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