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Visit(s)

04.09.2012

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.

Elephant enclosureAlthough I had to miss out on the oppor­tu­nity to see the ani­mals from the African Plains, the Asian Val­ley and the North Amer­i­can For­est – 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.

Lioness on glass tunnelFor 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 tiger cubs 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 video).

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.

Cheetah feeding enrichmentFor 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.

Squirrel monkey enclosureThis 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.

Lemur forestAn 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.

Vivarium greenhouseClose 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.

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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