Frankfurt zoo is among the oldest in the world, having its origins not in a menagerie, but was founded by citizens of the fast growing city of Frankfurt. Already in the early 1850s, a small group of Frankfurt citizens seized on the idea of building a zoo in the city. They organised themselves in the Frankfurt Zoological Society and convinced the Frankfurt City Council in 1857 that Frankfurt shold have a zoo. An important mediator was philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. By that time, not much was known about wild animal husbandry in Germany, as Berlin zoo was still quite small.
On 8 August 1858, Germany’s second zoo was opened by the zoo company, presenting 600 animals. The first director was relieved of his duties after a few months, but then Dr. Max Schmidt, who had visited most zoos of those days, was found the right man to serve for more than 25 years. The “test zoo” was not located on the site of the current zoo, but it was sited outside the city on a 6.5 hectare plot of land just to the west of the Bockenheimer Tor on the Bockenheimer Landstrasse.
Full history to be added …
Going to a German zoo in December is a gamble, regarding the weather. This time it turns out that I’ve picked a cold (4 °C) and rainy day. The rain influences my tour around the premises of course. Finding a dry hideout in one of the buildings during a shower is disturbing, but you get used to it. At least I do. Among friends I am famous for my planning of zoo visits on bad-weather-days .
Established in 1858 Frankfurt Zoo is among the world’s oldest zoos. But due to continuous change and improvements most exhibits meet the current standards for keeping animals in zoological parks, so the zoos age doesn’t really show. Especially, with the nicest of all Frankfurt Zoo enclosures located right after the entrance on the left makes the Zoo look modern.
This beautiful 1,600 m2 enclosure is a mixed-species exhibit for two South American species, spectacled bears and black howler monkeys. The exhibit, called ‘Ukumari land’ which means Land of the Bears in Quechua — the language of the South American Indians — hides indoor enclosures for both species behind the rear wall. These indoor enclosures are not accessible for the public.
Unfortunately, the black howler monkeys decided it’s too cold today so they stay inside all day. But the bears, mother and two one-year-old cubs, just have been provided with food when I enter the Zoo. It is scattered around the place and the bears are therefore foraging for food. The enclosure has high artificial rock face walls which create a secluded place, even if its right in the corner of the Zoo grounds bordering the city streets. There’s plenty of enrichment with tree trunks, ropes, a climbing rack, and huge large living trees. The trees are off limits for the bears, so the howler monkeys have a place of their own, similar to their original habitat of course. The ropes give them access to the trees, and these ropes cannot be used by the bears. Although the two one-year-old bears see a real challenge in doing a tightrope walk (see video). The exhibit comprises a water outlet in the far corner that via a waterfall leads into a stream and ends in a pool. A nice feature which, I can imagine, the inmates will appreciate. A deep dry moat on the visitor’s side makes other barriers unnecessary and the resulting views on the enclosure would make Carl Hagenbeck, the inventor of the bar-less enclosure, proud.
When I move on it turns out that the enclosure is much bigger than I first thought. In an undulating landscape with a nice pool, wooden platforms and hammocks a fourth bear appears (the father of the cubs). On this side no ropes that would allow the monkeys to escape a confrontation with the bear. A particular nice feeding enrichment in Ukumari land is the ‘shake tree’ — food that has been placed on the platform on top of this tree will drop down when the bears shake the tree.
Another enclosure situated close to the streets that surround the Zoo grounds is the one for the two Asian lions (male and female). In contrast to the bear enclosure much noise from the adjacent street (Thüringer Strasse) is audible. Together with the rather small size of the exhibit, the lack of vegetation, and the views on the apartment blocks when lying on the high level platform I think this enclosure is not well-suited for lions. The house where the lions are kept indoors, the Cats Jungle (‘Katzendschungel’) as it is called, accept visitors. This is becoming more and more an exception in modern zoos nowadays, the possibility to visit indoor quarters I mean. The house consists of three parts to separate the lions, if needed. Fortunately for the lions it is not an old-fashioned ‘clean’ design with tiled floors and walls. It has got a high level platform, trees and sand on the floor.
Besides the Asian lions, the Sumatran tiger, rusty-spotted cat and fossa are residents of the Cats Jungle house. The tiger’s indoors consists of two adjacent enclosures that both are small but have nice features, such as soil on the floor and trees that provide climbing enrichment as well as access to a high level platform on a ridge of an artificial rock face. One of the tiger’s indoor exhibits has a small pool.
The elegant rusty-spotted cats, one of the world’s smallest wildcats, have access to two connected exhibits with many trees and other type of vegetation, including many platforms on various levels for the cats to explore the area and lie down wherever they want.
The largest predator of Madagacar, the fossa, though housed in the Cats Jungle does not belong to the Felidae — the family of cats. According the current taxonomy the fossa belongs to the Eupleridae to which also mongoose belong. The fossa enclosures has jungle-like features, indoors and outdoors as well. Besides an enormous artificial tree with thick branches spreading out into both indoor enclosures, there are natural tree trunks and vegetation too. For the public a viewing platform on balcony level between the fossa and rusty-spotted cat exhibits makes it possible to see the predators when they hang around at the higher level. The outdoor enclosures for these two species are more protected from bad weather conditions than the other carnivore enclosures I’ve seen so far. It’s nice that the outdoor exhibits have lots of climbing enrichment too, with the fossa enclosure being about 10 metres high. These are not open-top enclosures, but have got wire mesh roofs.
The Sumatran tiger outdoor enclosure, however, like the Asian lion outdoors has got an open-top bar-less design. The tiger enclosure has one viewing window that attracts the public as well as the big cat. The tiger is pacing up and down in front of the window when I visit the exhibit, but probably it is waiting for the zookeeper to arrive with food. But this time the cat will wait in vain, because it is its fasting day according the information panel.
The Sumatran tiger pacing restlessly:
The exhibit comprises living trees and bamboo, and as far as I can see the trees are not protected from the cat’s scratching behaviour. The trees that could be part of an escape route, however, cannot be climbed. The tiger enclosure is best viewed from the raised boardwalk between the tiger exhibit and the large pond for waterfowl.
In the pond two small and clearly empty islands for the northern white-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus leucogenys) are located close the boardwalk. Although the islands are very small they have large trees, and when the leaves return in spring it will probably resembles a dense forest with undergrowth. The islands and the Gibbon house are connected by ropes. The Gibbon house at the corner of the pond where the boardwalk ends is a small indoor enclosure for the gibbons, and not open to the public. It is a greenhouse-like construction with a lot of glass, trees, foliage and ropes, though probably not heated. The latter could be the reason that the gibbons decided to huddle together in their winter/night quarters, where it’s cosy and warm.
In principal this is the Zoo’s nocturnal house, but parts of it are home to small South American monkeys such as the golden lion tamarin, Bolivian squirrel monkey, white-faced saki and Goeldi’s monkey, which are not exactly nocturnal animals. The small primate enclosures are not very large but have a variety of enrichment, including wood chip substrate and natural vegetation. These primate enclosures have artificial rock face walls which can be climbed, while all the other enclosures have walls that are painted with impressions of green forests. The Asian small-clawed otter is another species that is not nocturnal that has an indoor refuge in the Grzimek House. Although not very large, this indoor exhibit has a variety of enrichment features including a nice pool and a small waterfall. It is connected with the outdoor exhibit that has two pools, but these are dry at time of visit — probably because it’s winter. The otters are free to choose between the indoor and outdoor exhibit. All in all the majority of the enclosures in the Grzimek House are somewhat outdated and small. The nocturnal species, as always, are not easy to distinguish in the darkness. To be honest I don’t like nocturnal houses that much, because I normally have a hard time to adapt to the darkness and bump into people while strolling around in the darkness. So, I don’t mind several species are not housed in the dark, including the rock hyrax, pygmy marmoset, lesser Malay chevrotain, Komodo dragon and blue-headed waxbill and sociable weavers (Philetairus socius).
The historic building for the black rhinoceroses and the hippopotamus (1 individual) is really old-fashioned and outdated. In this former elephant enclosure the hippo and the rhinos can be fed and can move a few steps, while in addition the hippo can enter its pool of 5 by 2 metres, but that’s about it. The hippo outdoor enclosure is a relic from the past as well. Fortunately the rhino outdoor enclosure provides some more space. Both rhinos have their own enclosure, but these are still rather small. However, what I found more appalling is the fact that those enclosures are so absolutely dull that there’s no way that any exploring behaviour will be evoked in the rhinos.
In between the Grzimek House and the Rhino House the Exotarium and the seal pools are located. The common seal has an classic pool at its disposal in an amphitheatre setting built with artificial rocks. In the adjacent pool the South African fur seal has much larger pool but it is home to more specimens too. It has nice multilevel grounds at the rear end and several enrichment objects. The seals have to wait for another two hours before any fresh fish will arrive, nevertheless they are very active and playful.
The gentoo penguins in the Exotarium deserve a better enclosure and Zoo managment is aware of that. A new exhibit is scheduled, but the waiting is for the first pole to hit the ground. This new exhibit will be 1,900 m2 and home to 3 species of penguin: King penguin, gentoo penguin and rock hopper penguin. At ground level the Exotarium consists of old-fashioned rows of aquaria, one with two Australian lungfish that came to the Zoo on 24 December 1975, 39 years ago. At the upper level insects, reptiles and amphibia are kept in vivaria that are also of the old-fashioned type, small and with a single species on display. The one that stands out is the relatively large tank with crocodiles, alligators and tortoises. Tortoises that bite the alligators to chase them out of the water!
Against one side of the Exotarium building there’s rocky grounds that resemble the original habitat of the endangered West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasia). Although from quite different geographical origin and habitat, the Australian tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), a species that is classified as Least Concern, is the Georgian/Russian tur’s neighbour and is also kept on these rocky grounds.
Hoofed mammals and maned wolves
When I walk back to the entrance from the Rhino House two enclosures appear with okapi and giraffe respectively, two related species from African origin. The Giraffe House that connects these two outdoor enclosures not only comprise the indoors enclosure for okapi and giraffe, but for fennec fox and klipspringer as well. The klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) also have access to an outdoor enclosure, but unfortunately that almost completely lacks the rocks that would make the small antelope’s captive environment resemble its native habitat of the rocky and mountainous areas in the south of Africa. The fennec fox exhibit is a fabricated environment that even has its walls painted with a desert design. The four reticulated giraffes, of which one is only 10 months old — born on 4 February this year, have small stables at their disposal. The stable does not allow much walking, while the dull outdoor paddock is not a very enticing environment as well. As said, the building is old, but there’s plenty of information with educational value.
The okapi outdoor enclosure is built in 2005 with a dry moat on the visitor’s side. But also the okapi are not provoked to explore their straightforward dull enclosure on slightly sloping grounds.
Across the footpath from the okapi there’s a large enclosure with Reeve’s muntjac and Manchurian crane along a pond with ducks. The cranes must be clipped or pinioned because it is an open-top exhibit.
In the corner at this side of the Zoo near the giraffe exhibit another two African species are on display, the bongo and the mhorr or dama gazelle. A fairly large enclosure with great variety of vegetation and different kind of substrate, sand, grass and soil.
The typical smell of the maned wolf warns me that this South American predator must be nearby, and it sure is. It is kept in the enclosure adjacent to the bongo paddock. It’s a nice enclosure built in 2000, which makes it one of the more modern exhibits. There’s good shelter for these shy animals and the vegetation makes it look naturalistic. But as you see in many zoos and with all sorts of species, also here there’s evidence the animals are pacing in their exhibit. The next door pampas-like enclosure along the outer wall of the premises is a mixed-species exhibit with mara, Darwin’s rhea and vicuña. This area is a mix of species from several geographical regions, with the focus on Africa and South America. So, it is not a surprise that opposite the pampas, across the footpath, four Grevy’s zebra are kept — unfortunately in a nondescript sandy paddock.
As I have arrived near the impressive building of the Frankfurt Zoological Society — the founding fathers of the Zoo, where there is an unattractive terrace in a heated tent, I decide to have a quick coffee to warm myself. From here I walk to the Borgori Forest (‘Borgori-Wald’) with its great apes.
The Borgori Forest was opened to the public on 16 June 2008, at least the indoor facilities were, while the outdoor enclosures were opened two years later. This large area (1 ha) dedicated to great apes is created on the location of the former great ape house, the children’s zoo and the enclosures for raccoon, meerkat and prairie dog. It not only houses great apes, but northern white-cheeked gibbon and Mt Kenya guereza (Colobus guereza ssp. kikuyuensis) as well, and not to forget the Fischer’s turaco, a beautiful but endangered bird species. The building consists of several parts with domes that let natural light enter the building. The enclosures have wood chip substrate on the floor except for the orangutan enclosure which has a cement floor with a brownish coloured coating. The artificial rock face walls, the natural vegetation along the footpaths and the soil on the footpath provides a jungle-like atmosphere for the visitor. Close encounters with the apes are possible, though with a thick layer of glass in between. The footpath leads to a balcony where you watch from a different perspective on the exhibits and its inhabitants. All in all, the building is rather enjoyable. How the primates experience this is always guessing of course. But if they adapt to their confined arenas, which all have access to outdoor enclosures, they find themselves in an environment with plenty of enrichment features, such as tree trunk, ropes and rubber band hammocks. Unfortunately, there’s no natural vegetation inside the enclosures. The Sumatran orangutan share their exhibit with the gibbons. Djambi, the orangutan who is kept at Frankfurt Zoo since 1965, is an individual that has been sourced from the wild around 1959. The small group of four orangutans had recently lost a member, Charly, who was possibly the oldest orangutan in captivity worldwide with its 57 years. Charly was euthanized. The bonobo troop of 16 is an impressive bunch of social characters that had their latest offspring born on 20 April 2013. The western lowland gorilla troop consists of 7 members, including two-year old Sawa who was born on 10 July 2012. The gorilla is the only primate species that have a moated bar-less outdoor exhibit at their disposal, while the others have to do with fully wire mesh fenced off areas.
In the old-fashioned cages and enclosures of the much older (1962) next door monkey house there are hamadryas baboons, variegated spider monkeys (Ateles hybridus), ring-tailed lemurs and yellow-breasted capuchins (Sapajus xanthosternos) on display. It is old-fashioned but there’s plenty of enrichment, and they have replaced the wooden beams with stainless steel wire that is more easy to clean and provides better grip for the monkeys. Although the baboons are allowed to go outside, on their fake mountain island, they are all inside in their small enclosure with tiled walls and coated concrete floor (see video). Must have something to do with the temperature outside . Same counts for the variegated spider monkeys who avoid their outdoor island with its many trees, that will look like a jungle in summertime when the leaves have returned.
The centre of this part of the Zoo is the African savannah, which is arguably the nicest ungulate paddock Frankfurt Zoo has to offer. The large undulating landscape with a hill in the middle and large trees and shrubs, is surrounded by the Borgori Forest, the monkey house, the Faust Aviary House and the African wild dog enclosure. The four sable antelope have plenty of space to roam around and have different views on the surrounding environment.
The Grzimek camp that is embedded in the African savannah area, is reminiscent of the Africa expeditions of Bernhard Grzimek, Frankfurt Zoo’s famous director, and his son Michael Grzimek. The jeep and also the airplane on the monkey house were the means of transport of the two on their journeys in Africa when collecting animals. In the log cabin information about Grzimek’s life is available.
Faust Aviary House
The Faust Aviary House (‘Faust-Vogelhallen’) dates from 1961 and this shows when I go inside. Rows of similar aviaries have single bird species on display, including the endangered Socorro dove. On one side of the building, however, a walk-through heated aviary for tropical birds shows a more modern approach of keeping birds in captivity. The birds have ample space to fly around, while the visitor immerse into the fake jungle. Outside against the building the owl aviary, built in 2000, houses the inevitable snowy owl. This bird from the arctic region is very popular in many zoos nowadays, though it is not considered an endangered species.
On the other side of the Faust Aviary House, in the former pheasantry, now called Bird Bush (‘Vogelbüsche’), they have created a walk-through row of aviaries in the outdoors which hold species from various geographical regions such as the European bee-eater, European roller, hamerkop, scarlet ibis, white-bellied bustard and hoopoe.
The African wild dogs are on display and rather exposed in an elongated outdoor exhibit with wire mesh fence at the public’s side and almost no vegetation along this fence. Inside the enclosure there’s a variety of features to entice the dogs’ exploratory behaviour.
Adjacent to the wild dogs a small ‘down under’ section with two New Zealand species ends my tour around Frankfurt Zoo grounds. The enormously funny, inquisitive and naughty kea, a dark green parrot native to New Zealand South Island, have an aviary full of toys and other enrichment, while artificial boulders and rock face mimic their native alpine territory. The aviary allows the birds to fly around and show the beautiful red underside of their wings to the public. The kiwi centre is well worth a visit, although the North Island brown kiwi lives ‘behind the scenes’. The life of this nocturnal bird is explained and the kiwi comes alive through exhibitions, models and a film. A window in the Kiwi rearing station provides a view into the nursery. In addition to these special New Zealand birds, a species endemic to the island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea only) is on display, the Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo. Not many zoos have this endangered species in their collection, as a matter of fact there has never been more than 50 individuals in captivity worldwide.
Though Frankfurt Zoo is one of the world’s oldest city zoos, its management team is doing a good job keeping up with the demand for improvements due to the continuous change of zoo standards. Without doubt it will be budget issues that are holding them back from all refurbishments that are necessary, so they have to set priorities and see what becomes possible in due course of time. In the description of my tour around the Zoo grounds I left out several species and facilities, such as the birds of prey aviaries, babirusa or deer-pig, cassowary, bactrian camel and the children’s zoo. This means that there are a lot of species on display on Frankfurt Zoo’s 11 hectares. In my opinion further improvement of the enclosures to meet the requirements of animals in captivity is only possible if they further reduce the number of species in their collection. That will allow them to focus more on animal welfare and the need of animals to express their natural behaviour. In other words, increase the size of enclosures and aviaries of the most relevant endangered species, and phase out those species considered of Least Concern (according the Red List of Threatened Species). I know this is easy to say, and much debate is ongoing in the world of zoos on what is the appropriate way to keep exotic species in captivity. But I honestly believe if Zoos want to be taken seriously when they speak of conservation ex-situ they should move towards a situation that they are able to prepare their animals for a life in the wild. This will lead to city zoos abandoning the keeping of large mammals and predators, and focus on small species and develop more educational centres such as the Kiwi centre here in Frankfurt.
Reducing the number of species will at the same time make it possible to group the animal collection into geographical sections in a proper way, if the required amount of money is available of course.
Two spectacled bear cubs doing a clumsy tightrope walk
These two spectacled bear cubs — one year old twin brothers, born 25.12.2013 — have learned many things since they were born, but walking a tightrope is not one of them. After the smallest brother wasn’t able to conquer the alcove in the rock face wall he decides to walk the tightrope sideways in search for his own spot. Well, clumsy as he is, this spot is right on the ground after a funny dive. As you can see, his mother comes running towards him to see if he didn’t hurt himself. He’s fine and does not pay any attention to his worried mum.
Big brother then decides he will show how you walk a tightrope, but I am not convinced his success is due to skill or pure luck. See for yourself.…..
The hamadryas baboon theatre
The indoor exhibit for the hamadryas baboons at Frankfurt Zoo is not the most modern type of enclosure. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating sight to see how these primates have adapted to their captive situation and just do what they probably would have done elsewhere as well. Even this short video requires a few replays to see all that is going on in the small environment.
Some additional information, such as contact details and involvement in breeding programmes.
directions to Frankfurt Zoo
At the heart of the city centre Frankfurt Zoo can be reached in less than 10 minutes on foot from the city centre. If you arrive by train at Frankfurt’s central station (Hauptbahnhof) the easiest way is the underground or your bicycle to get to the Zoo. The Zoo recommends public transport for two reasons: shortage of parking space near the Zoo and it is more environmental friendly.
Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt central station is the most important rail transport hub in Germany. So, getting there by train should be no problem. From the central railway station the easiest way to get to the Zoo is by underground line 4 or 5, and switch to underground line 6 or 7 at Konstablerwache station.
Information (timetable, fares, routes) to book a train ticket is available here.
Tram line 14 will take you to Frankfurt Zoo, it has a stop near the entrance.
Frankfurt Zoo is serviced by underground line U6 or U7.
A routeplanner, timetables and information on fares for all public transport services is available here.
Germany is becoming more and more bicycle friendly, though you should be careful when there is no cycle lane available, because not all German car drivers expect or respect cyclists on ‘their’ road. Frankfurt am Main is such a bicycle friendly city, you can even take your bicycle on all public transport services (free of charge), though there are exceptions. A tip: If you are coming from far away, it is possible to take your bike on the train and cycle the last part of your journey. Deutsche Bahn runs a service called ‘Call a Bike’, which is bike rental system that supposed to be user-friendly — I haven’t used it, so I can’t tell you if their claim is true.
The website komoot shows you the nicest routes from every place of departure. Or you could try this bicycle routeplanner specially developed for the Federal State of Hesse (Bundesland Hessen).
Free parking in the vicinity of the Zoo is very limited. Therefore it is recommended to use public transport, also because this is environmental friendly. Nevertheless, the following commercial parking garages close to the Zoo are available:
- Parkhaus Zoopassage — Grüné Straße 11
- Parkhaus City-Parkhaus Ost — two entrances: Waldschmidtstr. 43 or Wittelsbacher-Allee 26
- Parkhaus Mousonturm — Waldschmidtstr. 6
- Parkhaus Klinik Rotes Kreuz — Königswarterstr. 19