A huge disappointment awaited me when I arrived at the entrance of Peaugres Zoo in the morning of 4 September. They had stopped operating the electric safari bus just the weekend before. Visitors that do not bring their own car can use this bus to enter the Safari part of the Zoo, called 'vehicle circuit'. And I came by bicycle. So, I had to skip this 'vehicle circuit' and went straight to the 'pedestrian circuit' at the other side of D821, the state road that divides the Zoo in the two aforementioned parts. The reason, by the way, that part of the Zoo is only accessible by car, was to prevent too long walking distances for the visitor because of the enormous size of the entire Zoo, 80 hectares.
Although I had to miss out on the opportunity to see the animals from , and – the latter with 13 hectares for American black bears, I was able to see part of the the African elephant enclosure. The elephants share their enclosure, enriched with rock piles, mud pools and logs, with the warthog.
Seen enough of the elephants I rode my bicycle another several hundred meters, through the tunnel under the state road, to the starting point of my visit, the 'pedestrian circuit'. After passing the currently very popular snowy owls, the pelicans and the flamingos, I arrived at two excellent enclosures. Both enclosures provided ample opportunity for the species it contained to express natural behaviour. The red panda had many trees to climb and tree trunks at high level to do what it normally does, sleep high up in the tree. This makes it sometimes hard to see them, especially when the vegetation is dense, like here in Peaugres. The nextdoor neighbours, the Asian small-clawed otters, are provided with an enclosure outfitted with features that somewhat resemble their native habitat. A little stream with several small waterfalls, a pool and lots of rocks to play, sleep and hide. Across the footpath the red river hogs had a beautiful terrain as well, where these handsome looking pigs could root to their heart's content.
From an educational point of view the info panels at the enclosures provide relevant and essential information, both in French and English. The Zoo's animal collection has been grouped according geographical origin in the 'vehicle circuit', but that is not the case in the 'pedestrian circuit'. In fact, there is no obvious grouping to be identified other than the large carnivores brought together at 'Espace griffes et crocs' (location claws and fangs), a few of the monkey species at 'Espace des singes' (location of the monkeys), and the 'Espace aquatique' for the feeding shows with the Californian sea lions and jackass penguin. And I shouldn't forget to mention the inevitable petting farm with only farm animals of course.
Even though it seems that zoo management found locations for the rest of their animal collection scattered over the premises by accident – just where it fitted the best, they tried to keep animals from the same geographical region together. Which leads to large mixed species exhibits. One with South American species including nandu, mara, capybara and tapir, while adjacently a South American predator, the maned wolf, was housed. Another mixed species exhibit comprised Australian representatives, Bennett's wallaby, red kangaroo and emu. The Zoo's Przewalsky's horses were kept together in a large paddock with Bactrian camel, both species native to Mongolia. With the Przewalsky's horse being reintroduced in Mongolia after captive breeding successes when it had gone extinct in the wild.
For me, the highlight of Peaugres Zoo was the predator section with Amur tiger, African lion, African wild dog, grey wolf, snow leopard, cheetah, Eurasian lynx and serval. There is an elevated pedestrian walkway that allows viewing from above in several enclosures, and a glass tunnel that provides close encounters with the tigers and lions – especially during feeding time when feed is thrown on the tunnel. Both the tigers and the lions have a large enclosure in open grassy terrain at their disposal with shelters and observation platforms. Enrichment equipment such as balls and balls on ropes are available. In addition the tiger enclosure has two pools, of which the male tiger makes good use during the hot summer day. Feeding brought great excitement, not only for the visitors but for the two as well. A bag filled with hay, wherein some of the meat had been kept for a while, was thrown in the enclosure. One of the cubs immediately grabbed it and defended it, as his prey, against his litter mate and his mother. In the end the bag is torn apart, but it led to a lot of play fighting (watch ).
On the other side of the pedestrian walkway the wolves occupy a slightly undulating landscape that is nothing less than a fenced off part of the original forest, so it seems. In fact, the entire Zoo has been landscaped in the forested area near Peaugres, and the original vegetation has been used to create a natural surrounding for some of the species. Considering the wolves this has been done very successfully.
The climate near the river valleys of southern France is not very suitable for snow leopards. And to me the snow leopard enclosure wasn't very suitable as well. Although the rock formation provided shadow, the enclosure lacked decent shelters in my opinion, with the big cats from the Himalayas quite exposed to the public.
For the cheetahs they have created a system to enrich the feeding process. It requires the cats to run after and prey upon the meat that is pulled around the enclosure along guiding cones, like greyhounds have to pursue a mechanically propelled dummy hare around a race track.
Most of the monkeys are housed in and around a former farmstead. Unfortunately, a decision has been made not to use natural trees and vegetation to enrich the animals' life. Especially the colobus monkeys which are arboreal and live in all types of closed forest in their native habitat, are provided with a pathetic copy of such a forest. Although there is ample opportunity for the animals to climb and keep off the ground, it is all artificial and consists of bare tree trunks, ropes and two truck tires on a rope. No vegetation and no protection from the sun at all. The same counts for the mandrill island. Even though the colobus monkey, the mandrill and the black-handed spider monkey have such an obviously artificial enclosure without any vegetation, these species are still better-off compared to the size of the enclosures of the other (small South American) monkeys housed at the farmstead.
This contrasts sharply with the outdoor enclosure of the Bolivian squirrel monkeys that comprises several deciduous and coniferous trees interconnected with ropes and small stems. Their indoor enclosure however is rather small and old-fashioned with tiled floors and walls, though lots of climbing enrichment again.
An impressively simple but effective exhibit design is the lemur forest, which is a walk-through and fenced-off part of the original forest. Apart from the fence, the only work that needed to be done here was cutting some trees, create a footpath and provide the lemurs with shelters and a small but warm house for the cold nights and days. The red ruffed lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs seemed totally at ease in their domain, although notably quite a few of the ring-tailed lemurs were missing part of their tail.
Close to the lemur territory a brand new greenhouse-like construction accommodates many reptile and amphibian species in many different vivariums. Snakes, frogs (such as various poison-arrow frogs), tortoises and iguana can be admired here. The building opened in June 2012, and the glass construction allows natural light and heat to enter the building – ventilation is enabled by movable roof panels.
Spread over the premises you will find a few aviaries, with birds of prey and psittacine birds, even a walk-through aviary with ara. But it is just an attempt to provide the visitor with a full array of nature's Kingdoms – the Zoo's heart is not into birds that's clear. So, if you are a bird aficionado Peaugres Zoo can be skipped from your wish list.
The Zoo is closed for three months in winter, from mid-November until mid-February. But for what I've seen during my visit in September I surmise they don't get high number of visitors outside the tourist season, except for the weekends perhaps. One of the Zoo's assets is its location – in rural area – but as a consequence it is not a densely populated area when the tourist season is over.
Finally, close to the exit of the 'pedestrian circuit' there's the white-handed gibbon island to remind the critical visitor of the close to haphazardly distribution of the animal collection over the Zoo grounds.