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.
Well, 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.
Butterfly 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.