The monumental entrance to Rotterdam Zoo in the ‘Van Aerssenlaan’ is restored in its former glory. The entrance is part of the big picture of the Zoo as designed in 1939 by architect Sybold van Ravesteyn. Within the architect’s oeuvre the Zoo is the most important, preserved work – in size and overall concept – in the flamboyant, ornamental style as developed by him.
The Zoo will also get back its famous tower, supposedly. The FIBS Council Committee, led by Chairman Metin Çelik (PvdA), in 2007 submitted a motion to reserve EUR 4.5 million for the rebuilding of the demolished tower, which took place in 1972, and the restoration of the Rivièrahal.
Full history account: to be added
Historical footage of the predecessor of the current Rotterdam Zoo, called ‘Rotterdamsche Diergaarde’.
The footage made by Mr. Gotthard Pieter Spoel, a notary in Rotterdam, is from the 1930s – thus before the devastating bombing of Rotterdam during WWII, and has been donated to the Rotterdam City Archives by a Rotterdam family. The Zoo was located adjacent to the former main railway station ‘Delftsche Poort’, which was targeted during the air raid in May 1940. Although work on the new Zoo in the Blijdorp district was in progress and relocation of the animals was foreseen, the bombing not only destroyed the railway station effectively, but the old zoo including most animals as well .
The video begins with a meeting between Mr. Spoel’s wife, Jaantje Spoel-Kleppe, and his niece, Elisabeth Spoel, on 3 June 1932. Next they start visiting and feeding the animals, which was a common activity in those days. The video is a compilation of footage shot during the early 1930s, in summer as well as in winter. You will recognise flamingo, stork, swan, pelican, gull, zebra, parrots, blackbuck, sable antelope, fallow deer, macaque and many other species. Chimpanzees are playing on the lawn without being physically separated from the public. Kangaroos are play-fighting and elephant rides are an attraction. And probably the most spectacular enclosure of the old Zoo is featured with the 500 m2 basin for California sea lion and the 8 metre high rock face designed by Urs Eggyswyler – the architect who designed the rocky landscapes of Hagenbeck’s Tierpark in Hamburg.
(Source: Rotterdam City Archives; Iets grootsch & buitengewoons – 150 jaar Rotterdamse Diergaarde (ed. Adriaan Gerritsen /Blijdorp), 2007)
When Rotterdam Zoo moved to a new location, 1939 – 1940
The old Zoo was located adjacent to the former main railway station ‘Delftsche Poort’, which was targeted during the air raid in May 1940. The footage from 17 November 1939 shows first the members only entrance of the old Zoo and several animals in their cages – a tiger, several monkeys and a lion. Next, the first animal shelters in the old Zoo are being torn down, after which an aerial view shows the Zoo with the demolished buildings, while construction work is ongoing at the new site in the Blijdorp district of Rotterdam.
Despite the ongoing work on the new Zoo and relocation of the animals, the bombing of Rotterdam in the beginning of WWII in May 1940 killed most of the animals in the buildings that still existed. Fortunately, construction work of the new Zoo continued, and the footage of 9 December 1940 shows ‘Diergaarde Blijdorp’ in an almost completed state. It is the first zoo ever that was completely designed from scratch by one architect, in this case Sybold van Ravesteyn. You’ll see the famous Riviera Hall, that together with many other buildings later became listed as national protected architectonic sites – which obstructs many of the necessary modernisations the Zoo management wants to establish nowadays. The watchtower that was connected to the Riviera Hall, however, was demolished in 1972, because it became a threat to the public when it started to deteriorate and was much to expensive to renovate.
(Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Iets grootsch & buitengewoons – 150 jaar Rotterdamse Diergaarde (ed. Adriaan Gerritsen /Blijdorp), 2007)
It has been a while since I visited Rotterdam Zoo. Although the Zoo suffers severe budget cuts several improvements have been made or are underway. Partly thanks to the Friends of the Zoo Association a brand new raccoon enclosure is established, the Stellar’s eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) aviary has been opened as well as the arctic fox pen (Vulpes lagopus), and major adjustments and renovation are being made to the Zoo’s Asia continent. It is a huge project that they got themselves in to, and at the time of visit it would not be right to judge because works were ongoing still. Nevertheless it is worth mentioning the ‘swampy forest’ that is under development, but was ready for visitors yet. In what you can call a sneak preview, I was able to have a look at the three interconnected islands that housed the Sulawesi crested macaques (Macaca nigra). Though not extremely large the islands seem fit for purpose for these old world monkeys.
Not so much renovation or novel, but still an improvement was the extension of the Asian lions quarters. Finally, they gained access to the former hyaena enclosure adjacent to the lion enclosure which doubled their space. The two lion cubs, born on 13.11.2011, who recently were allowed outside certainly made use of this newly conquered world very effectively. They played to their hearts content, I would say (see ).
I n spite of these happy events there are some gloomy days ahead, as the Zoo has to say farewell to two of the elephants. They will leave for Prague Zoo. Mother Donna is disturbing the herd’s pecking order lately and cannot be retained in the herd. As her calf, Tonya, is too young to be separated from her mother she will accompany her mother on the trip to Prague. Already both animals are separated from the herd and are being prepared for transport. Especially the calf is trained now to get used to be chained to the leg, therefore you see the chain around her left foreleg in the picture on the right.
At last, I saw the polar bear cub. It was a beautiful day and many people joined me watching mother and cub exploring their enclosure. I wished the sponsor of this little polar bear had decided otherwise, but the little feller (they think it is a boy, but it is not sure yet, I believe) will be known as Vicks, the brand name of the sponsor – a candy producer. Although the cub likes to explore its environment, it stays close to its mum in case protection is needed. Olinka is an experienced mother and does not panic easily. Nevertheless, when Vicks accidentally went swimming today, she insisted that the cub came ashore as soon as possible. Eric, the cub’s father, watched his descendant from a distance. Let’s hope the genes Vicks inherited will allow him to keep the European Zoo population of polar bears healthy, which cannot be said of Knut, the Berlin bear that suddenly passed away last week, unfortunately.
From the polar bear grounds I moved to the hyena enclosure, where I saw the hyena cub conjoined with his mother in the sun, impersonating a real lazybones. Nothing much to see, I went to the European otters, who I haven’t seen since they were moved to their new enclosure. This new enclosure is not very attractive, and could do with some enrichment. As for now, it is just a big pool with two small islands. The only shelter they have got is their indoor enclosure. So, they can do with some additional objects in their environment to satisfy their curiosity and natural explorative behaviour. Fortunately, they are playful and do not seem depressed. They are seeking contact with the public which makes them fun to watch, but we are probably just their daily distraction to prevent boredom.
Recently, Rotterdam Zoo announced that the two sea otters will join their mother again in Lisbon Aquarium. The two sea otter sisters were on loan from the Portugese Aquarium to try and generate offspring. Unfortunately, several attempts – including artificial insemination – did not bring the long awaited pregnancy. Furthermore, all the male sea otters in European zoos have died in captivity, now. So, there are only three female sea otters left in Europe. The old mother in Lisbon, who lost her male companion this spring, and her two daughters. As it became obvious that it will be impossible to get a male sea otter to Europe on short notice, breeding with the two sea otter sisters will not be possible anymore in Europe. The decision to reunite mother with daughters was made and one of the highlights of every single visit of me to Rotterdam Zoo will be gone soon. But today the public could still enjoy the social behaviour of the two ever so lively animals. Floating on their back next to each other, handing over food while twisting and turning, they make everybody stop at their enclosure and smile. These happy two will bring some sunshine in their mother’s life again soon. Rotterdam Zoo will miss them.
Another happy and playful couple are the two Sumatran tiger cubs. They have a playful mother too, who even invites them to join her in some rough-housing. They put on a nice show during my visit on this cold and sunny afternoon. The same sun is reason for the ring-tailed lemurs to show the typical buddha-posture while sunbathing in their enclosure, the former colobus monkey island. These lemurs have been absent from Rotterdam Zoo for about 30 years, but rivalry in a large group of these social animals in Apeldoorn Zoo provided the opportunity to welcome a group of 10 beautiful lemurs from Apeldoorn in July of this year. It seems to me that the lemurs are better off than the former inhabitants, the colobus monkeys. Because their new exhibit is more cage-like, and very close to the public, while the island is a confined area without fences and quite some distance from the ever ‘peeping’ visitors. Nevertheless, both enclosures offer good climbing facilities, enrichment these primates require.
The sole purpose of this visit was to have a look at the Savannah area in its final stage, and if possible see the Sumatran tiger cubs, which were born on 10 May this year. The cubs were outside, but were hiding from the rain. The two of them were sitting close together in their hideout, curiously looking at the rain and the wet environment, but were hard to identify by the public. I have to return on a dry and sunny day to watch them explore their environment. The Savannah area was recently extended with three new enclosures. The servals, colobus monkeys, and the vultures are being housed now in the African Savannah, where they belong. The vulture rock, indeed contains an artificial big rock but the vultures seem to prefer the tree as observation post. It is a walk-in enclosure which enables close encounters. The enclosure is occupied by five different species – hooded vulture, white-backed vulture, Ruppell’s vulture, marabou stork, grey crowned crane, Southern ground-hornbill –, which can express their normal daily behaviour. Even the vultures can do some flying exercises (time slot dependent to prevent collisions; my attitude is not very positive when aviaries are concerned). Unfortunately, the railway track which prevents zoo expansion is disturbingly close by.The servals will experience improvement when they compare their new house to the former one. When they roam around in their territory they can see kudus, zebras and giraffes and they can imagine living in their natural African environment, except for the wire mesh that limits their territory. Apart from the species mentioned already, the European otters have been relocated too. In my opinion that is not an improvement, because their new home in the Chinese garden is less exciting than the old one. Less places to hide and everything more straightforward, but still a large playground with sufficient water for two otters. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made on a small scale to create generic upgrades, I suppose.
There is a lot of work in progress these days. The new hyena enclosure is now occupied by the hyenas. The new facilities do not look very attractive at the moment. This has got a lot to do with the time of year (it’s winter, so all trees and shrubs are quite bare), and perhaps there is some influence from the railway-line that is visible and audible. The hyenas have been transfered from the old lion enclosure. There they have been neighbours of the Asian lions waiting to be housed in the new Africa zone, the savannah. Their transfer allows for extension of te lion enclosure. The lions will like some extra space in the outdoor enclosure. But to my honest opinion the indoors facility needs some refurbishment too. This was for everybody to notice today, because the lion cub Naui, born on 09.09.09 with no siblings, was inside today. So, everybody went in and was thrilled to see the extrovert cub. But there was more to see: the old-fashioned small cages that do not provide a lot of room, and no environmental enrichments whatsoever.
There are two more additions expected this year to the new Africa zone. The serval enclosure and the free flight cage for vultures. It will be a relieve for the servals, because they are now housed in the old row of cages just across the Riviéra-hall (one of Ravesteyn’s buildings). Furthermore the old entrance is being restored, including some major works on buildings next to the entrance are on-going.
The new residence of the giraffes, which is part of the African savannah under development, is of a stunning photogenic architecture. An asset to the garden, that’s for sure. This entire area, representing the African continental fauna, is to be further expanded and soon the construction will be started of a serval-enclosure. Finally, these magnificent cats will have their own dignified environment. The last few years the servals were moved several times, but the different enclosures wherein they were housed, did not do them credit. These enclosures did not even have decent signs to inform the visitor of their inhabitants, which stresses its temporariness.
The new giraffe exhibit is called ‘Baobab’, because the designer was inspired by this African tree. The Baobab has a flexible interior layout, made possible by the modern gate system that has been used. The hay baskets are hanging down from a hoist on a umbrella-like structure. They can be operated remotely, to lower the baskets to fill, and hoist them again to offer the feed to the giraffes at a natural and convenient height. It seems that solar cells are mounted to operate the hoists by solar energy. In any case, this could work, because the entire roof of the enclosure is composed of translucent plastic.
Via a footbridge you reach the observation platform inside the enclosure. There, you have arrived directly at eye level of the giraffes. This increases the potential close encounter with the animals, which is our essential goal isn’t it? The animals are a little jumpy, but this is not a surprise. They have been moved to this new house just recently. Nevertheless they already come dangerously close to the railing of the viewing platform with their heads.
Major renovation is still underway. The polar bears who were temporarily moved to another zoo, are back. Their new home, part of Arctica, was opened in July this year. The arctic foxes who will also be housed in Arctica are now temporarily housed in the old cat cages.
A nice enclosure with “close encounter” opportunity is that of the prairie dogs. It is a must-see. The Sumatran tigers will also be happy with their new environment with lots of vegetation.
The outside enclosure for the gorillas, offers the animals a quiet private space protected from the public. Through a limited number of windows the gorillas can be seen and also from above from the footpaths along the walls that form the artificial boundary of the enclosure.
Times were changing during the 1970s and 1980s, and Rotterdam Zoo wasn’t keeping up with that change. In fact, not a lot happened with respect to enclosure design and improvement. The Zoo buildings deteriorated and stopped making Rotterdam citizens proud, while at the same time animal welfare was neglected. Visitor numbers dropped and the economic viability of the Zoo was at risk, to say the least. Hence, a Masterplan to modernise the Zoo was drafted and presented in 1988. Funds were raised and work commenced, including a fortunate occasion in October 1990 when City Council decided to make available another 11 hectares for the Zoo’s future plans.
Some of these pictures of the 1980s show enclosures that needed to be upgraded or modernised for the animal’s sake. At the same time they portray several species that once belong to the Zoo’s animal collection, such as the brown bear, clouded leopard, white rhinoceros and Przewalski horse, but are no longer there.
Black rhino calf frolicking on a cold and sunny Sunday
This three weeks old black rhinoceros calf, born 23 December 2017, knows exactly how to make an entrance. First she couldn’t wait to leave her mother’s womb unexpectedly early. Secondly, she proves to be fearless when preceding her mother entering the outdoor enclosure.
This female calf is the second black rhino calf ever to be born in a Dutch Zoo. The first one was born 57 years ago – also in Rotterdam Zoo.
Polar bears in the snow
The first snow of winter 2017⁄18 is an unexpected surprise for the Polar bear mum and her adolescent cubs. These are weather conditions that should be mandatory they believe.
Indian rhino impersonating a hippo
Whoever thought rhinos need really hot weather before taking a bath, he or she thought wrong. This Indian rhinoceros voluntarily stepped into the pool while outside temperatures just reached 10 °C. Don’t let the sunshine fool you – it will never be hot and steamy in the beginning of April in the Netherlands.
Lion-tailed macaque youngster
Just a very brief impression of the energetic little lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), born November 2015 (so, four months old in this footage). It’s a lively little bugger and seemingly not afraid of anything.
The grayish brown polar bear twin cubs
Born on 2 December 2014 these polar bear cubs have developed into two independent individuals after six months. They don’t need Mum anymore, they have each other. For some serious roughhousing, for fun and a swim, although one needs more persuasion than the other to plunge into the pool.
Polar bear white is not the colour they think is suitable for the Rotterdam Zoo situation, so some rolling around on the ground gives them a nice camouflage colour – impersonating a grizzly. Too bad it wears off in the water though.
By the way, when they get really really tired they still fall asleep against Mum.
Northern carmine bee-eater at the job
The okapi in the new enclosure at Rotterdam Zoo – that opened to the public Spring 2015 – are being kept company by several species, such as the crested guinea fowl (Guttera pucherani) and the northern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicus). The latter you will see enjoy one of his favourite dishes in this video. But pay attention, because after a brief shot of the outdoor pen of the okapi and zooming in on the bee-eater, the bee-eating starts and finishes in a few seconds.
Black rhino taking a mud bath
Black rhinoceroses have returned to Rotterdam Zoo. They are kept in the revamped pachyderm wing of the Rivierahal, one of the historic and original buildings designed by architect Sybold van Ravensteyn. This footage of a black rhino taking a mud bath was taken about a year after the grand opening on 14 September 2013.
Spotted hyena and her little snack
Obviously, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) found her ‘prey’ and is taking it somewhere else to enjoy the juicy spare-ribs quietly, without inquisitive spectators making comments about her table manners.
Directions to Rotterdam Zoo
Address main entrance:
Van Aerssenlaan 49
Central Station: 12 minutes’ walk or bus service 40 or 44 to entrance Riviera Hall or bus service 40 or 33 to entrance Oceanium. Metrostation Blijdorp (E-line) 5 minutes walk.
Click here to plan your journey by public transport >(choose as destination ‘attraction’ and fill in Diergaarde Blijdorp)
To the left of the historical entrance at the city-side, Van Aerssenlaan, there is free bicycle parking. At the new entrance, Oceanium-side, plenty of bicycle racks are provided.
On the Northern ring road take exit no. 13 ‘Blijdorp’. Supervised parking (€ 8.00).