When you arrive at CERZA Zoo on your bicycle you’re in for a surprise. In amazement I see that entrance tickets can only be bought at ticket booths positioned along the car lanes where the cars are queuing, similar to a ferry port. However, there is no bicycle lane here at CERZA Zoo. As I have been well-brought-up I go stand in line in the shortest queue and trigger several smiles in the cars around me. After purchasing a ticket the cars go to the car park and I navigate to the two bicycle racks just in front of the actual entrance. So, I’m not the first visitor ever arriving by bike.
There are three routes to visit the Zoo grounds, and all start immediately after the entrance. So, to postpone the decision, to orientate myself, and to stick to the habit of having my morning coffee when arriving at a zoo, I first turn right and go to the Pagode restaurant.
The Pagode restaurant has a terrace with terrific views on the lower situated mixed-species exhibit with undulating grounds and two ponds for Indian rhino, Eld’s deer, blackbuck and axis deer. Another paddock has bactrian camel on display. Also views on two connected islands for siamang. Both islands are enriched with climbing features of which the large European Chestnut is most impressive. Especially, when the siamang all climb to the top and start calling loudly using their throat sac. One of the siamang youngsters is born 2 December 2015, so 1 year and 9 months old.
A first impression of what CERZA Zoo has got to offer, while having my morning coffee:
Signage and information
The panels at the enclosures provide the information in French of course . Fortunately, for those who haven’t mastered the French language yet, some of the information is presented by using graphics, including the geographical distribution. There’s information about the conservation status, including whether or not the species takes part in the European Endangered species breeding Programme (EEP), but it lacks the IUCN Red List classification. The species’ scientific name is accompanied by its English name as well. I would have appreciated, and probably other foreign visitors also, when more of the information available is translated into English. The only English is the brief summary of the conservation status and the threats.
The three routes
To support the visitor covering all of the Zoo grounds and see all the species there are three routes available — the Yellow circuit, the Red circuit, and the Train circuit. The time suggested to complete the Yellow circuit and the Red circuit, which are the ones to do on foot, is not to be taken seriously. You should spend about 1h30 on the Yellow circuit, and 1h00 on the Red circuit to cover the full grounds, but that would make me feel like running along the enclosures without proper observation. The Train circuit does not add much to the experience to be honest (see the Train Safari).
So, I start with the Yellow circuit. The enclosure for black-crested macaque (Macaca nigra) is as impressive as the Asian Valley near the Pagode restaurant. A large downhill situated grassland area including vegetation such as rhododendron and other shrubs and trees, besides plenty of artificial enrichment. Further to this, a large object made of concrete close to the uphill fence is impersonating a natural boulder, and is used by some of the youngsters roughhousing in plain view of the visitors. The large boulder could be a dual purpose construction and also provide shelter for the monkeys, but I’m not sure.
While walking downhill I appreciate the vast size of this macaque enclosure and when I arrive at the bottom of the valley I realise that this kind of sizable enclosures I’ve seen so far are probably the standard over here in Hermival-les-Vaux (Lisieux).
In the valley another species of macaque appears on the left, the lion-tailed macaque. It is kept in an enclosure that is considerably smaller than the one for the crested-macaques, but still to be classified as large I would say. The large pond is an eye-catcher of this exhibit, but the infant born on 16 July is attracting attention as well.
Opposite the lion-tailed macaques there’s a path that guides me along an open top enclosure with white-naped crane, bar-headed goose and red-breasted goose, to the lower side of the Asian rhino paddock (Asian Valley).
After I return from the small detour to the Asian Valley I follow the path around the lion-tailed macaque enclosure that leads to the adjacent enclosure that houses Malay tapir. At first sight it appears as being a rather moderate sized exhibit, when compared to what I’ve seen so far. However, this part of the exhibit comprises a large pond surrounded by a grassy meadow and two lazy tapir in one corner, while there’s a passageway that gives access to an additional paddock for these two tapir. Moreover, there’s a neighbouring enclosure housing a single, probably male, Malay tapir.
When I make my way uphill on the opposite side of the valley a large elongated enclosure for spectacled bears appear. It is rich of trunks, wooden platforms and hammocks about 2 metres above ground, and still has got plenty of space for the 5 bears to roam around and disappear. For the visitors to appreciate the size of the enclosure and to see the bears, there’s a nice viewing deck. From up there I see the bear cub, born in January 2017, travelling the trunks — though not as sure-footed as the adults yet (see video). After dragging myself away from this magnificent exhibit the next large enclosure appears on the right. In a fenced off area of the forest, reserved for the Alaskan tundra wolf (Canis lupus tundrarum), there’s little chance of seeing the wolves because the ground is situated a little higher than the visitor’s footpath. Nevertheless my patience rewards me with a view on two of them stretching their legs and lying down again out of my sight. Close to the wolves’ exhibit an enormous enclosure for polar bears is being built, to be ready by 2018.
Following the footpath and passing a very large grassy paddock for Persian fallow deer, hog deer, barasingha, sika deer, Chinese water deer and banteng, the first enclosure I encounter for Northeast African cheetah or Sudan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii) is a bit disappointing — considering its size I mean. It is elongated while in the width situated uphill, with grass and trees. Although rather large I think it is too small for cheetah considering their need for making long runs and even more so because other species have so much more space at their disposal here at CERZA Zoo. The other cheetah enclosure is found a bit further along the footpath but on the other side. It is smaller but has besides trees also a hill that provides shelter from the inquisitive public. The fences of both cheetah enclosures along the footpath are hidden behind bamboo to shield the area. Cheetahs are well-known for their need for change to procreate successfully, therefore the Zoo’s females are taking turns in meeting one of the male cheetahs every month. The male that is not allowed near the females is kept in an enclosure at the Red Circuit, outside the females’ range of vision and sense of smell.
The next exhibit is a brand new enclosure for brown bears, Le Vallee des Ours bruns. It has been opened just this year. It’s 2 hectares comprises a waterfall and a stream that ends in a large pool in front of the visitor’s viewing area. Obviously the five bears have adapted quickly to their new environment and seem to enjoy the enclosure with its various enrichment features (see video). Across from the brown bears, white tigers inhabit an undulating grassy landscape with trees that is rather secluded and only allow viewing from a platform. At the sheltered platform a panel gives concise but clear information about the threats of tigers in the wild. On their website as well as in the Zoo guidebook they explain that white tigers are Bengal tiger with a genetic mutation that leads to a colour aberration in its coat (white) and make the animal ill-equipped for hunting in nature, because it lacks camouflage. Therefore they cannot survive in the wild (for more information see White tigers). But they fail to inform the pubic that these white tigers are still being bred in many zoos as an attraction, also at CERZA Zoo and at Les Parc des Félins which is also owned by the Jardin family.
The grouping of the animal collection seems rather haphazard with predators and hoofed animals in a random order and the same counts for the continents they are representing. So, I am not surprised that next in line is a mixed-species exhibit with greater rhea and vicuña from South America followed by an enclosure for Brazilian or lowland tapir. While on the other side of the footpath a large walk-through exhibit has Australian species on display. Terra Australis is represented by red kangaroo, domestic sheep, white cockatoo and a crashed aeroplane. Then two gibbon species are exhibited in two different environments. The white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) have access to an island as you see them in many zoos nowadays. Lots of vegetation and full of other enrichment features, but nevertheless these gibbons are probably envious of the other gibbon species, the northern white-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus leucogenys). The latter have access to a small fenced off forest with large trees that can be climbed all the way to the top. Although these gibbons can get away from the visitors easily, there’s one who is climbing down when several people are trying to catch a glimpse of the primates in the trees and posts itself right in front of them to watch them intensively while sitting on the ground. After these Asian species, the golden-headed lion tamarin represents South America again, and so does the alpaca. But the group of six small-clawed otters, which are on display in an uphill situated enclosure full of enticing enrichment features, are definitely Asian (see video). As are the red panda and Reeve’s muntjac that are housed together in an enclosure with many large trees of which most are made inaccessible for the red pandas. On the other side of the footpath the gelada baboons and the southern ground hornbill are the odd African species in this section. As I have now reached the area close to the public eateries and the petting zoo with goats, the sound of the crowd is rather loud compared to the relative rest in other parts of the premises. Therefore I pity the emperor tamarin that although being housed on a premium island with a large tree and other natural vegetation have to cope with all these noises.
And so I arrive at the starting point of the Red circuit, which focusses on African species. A beautiful large walk-through aviary called Wings of the World with nice natural features and bird species from the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia is the first exhibit you encounter here. Followed by the African lion enclosure which has a nice observatory to be reached via the petting zoo. When standing in the observatory room you have 360 degrees view as it is right in the middle of the enclosure, and you are only separated from the five ferocious but sleeping ? predators (1 male, 4 females) by thick glass all around. So, hiding is not an option for the lions. In the observatory there is much and good information about the conservation needs of lions. The lion’s neighbours, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) have an enclosure that is even more interesting. It has an observation hut that is half underground with small windows on eye level which is ground level for the hyena. Therefore it is not easy to spot the hyenas, because the enclosure is of considerable size, like most of the other enclosures here at CERZA Zoo — did I mention that already? So, the first experience is one of animals that are hard to locate in a spacious environment with boulders and trees. But as soon as I leave the observation hut and follow the footpath it turns out that the enclosure is just another one of the fenced off forest areas where you can spot the animals through the fence. Too bad actually, because such a landscape immersion experience in the hut I appreciate much more.
Then there’s the inevitable walk-through lemur exhibit which no modern zoo can do without so it seems. Of course this is a large one, and it has a shop with a thatched roof that you might encounter when visiting the rural areas of Madagascar. When opening this lemur exhibit in 2016, it was decided to introduce a third species of lemur next to those already present on the site (14 ring-tailed lemurs and 6 white-belted ruffed lemurs). They chose to introduce red ruffed lemurs. Unfortunately, cohabitation can be a very complex matter, and it turned out that the red ruffed lemurs were not accepted by the white-belted ruffed lemurs. The latter showed signs of aggressiveness that didn’t decrease over time. So, the red ruffed lemurs were replaced by two crowned lemurs in 2017. These three different lemur species get along just fine and have plenty of space to avoid each other whenever necessary. Avoiding visitors is up to the animals themselves, because lemurs are quite adorable to see. Hence it is stated clearly that you should not try to touch the lemurs. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to have a zookeeper around at all times to correct visitors who get to close. This is why I am not in favour of such walk-through exhibits. I appreciate that close encounters are part of the experience zoo people think is helping to get across their conservation message to the visitors. But in general people are incorrigible and will try and touch the animals, with severe consequences as a possible results — yes, even cuddly lemurs can bite!
Apparently, of the ring-tailed lemurs only the males take part in the European Endangered species Programme, as they are lent to other zoos occasionally.
As with quite a few other enclosures the one for African wild dogs is a fenced off area of the original forest and therefore contain many trees. This is a bit different from the natural habitat of these species, because in Africa these wild dogs are mostly found in savannah and arid zones, generally avoiding forested areas. Close to this enclosure is one of the mixed-species exhibits, in this case with scimitar-horned oryx, Burchell’s zebra, Ostrich and helmeted guineafowl. While walking towards the largest of the enclosures of CERZA Zoo, the African Plain, I pass a peculiar exhibit where the pygmy hippopotamus has recently got two Roloway monkeys (Cercopithecus diana roloway) as companions, although both species have their own quarters as well. The Roloway monkeys, an old female and young male, were introduced in CERZA Zoo in early August. After the zookeepers will have learnt about keeping this species it is planned to introduce a young female and start breeding this species.
In another fenced off forest two leopards, a melanistic (black) individual and a normal one, should be able to hear and smell some potential prey animals that roam the next-door African Plain. This enormous exhibit comprise Nile lechwe (Kobus megaceros), southern white rhinoceros, ostrich, Ankole-Watusi cattle (a domestic species), giraffe and gemsbok.
After a full and satisfying day spent at CERZA Zoo I walk form here to the exit and think about why I like this zoo so much despite the presence of white tigers. All herd species live in herds of modest size here at CERZA Zoo, which enables normal social behaviour and the establishment of stable groups. In addition they try to provide all species with an environment that resembles their natural habitat. The original decision to create large sized enclosures has paid off, with successful natural breeding of many species which is normally a sign of good husbandry and healthy animals, physically and mentally. And the vast size of the Zoo and its exhibits creates a relaxed atmosphere for the visitor as well, which is a real pleasure to enjoy. This makes the haphazard grouping of species at the Yellow circuit a bit more acceptable, but I wonder if the lack of logic interferes with the educational efforts of the Zoo on global biodiversity, ecosystems and conservation needs.
In contrast with the outdoor enclosures, the night or winter quarters for the species are not particularly impressive, and sometimes even quite small — for instance for the rhino. Nevertheless it is quite out of the ordinary nowadays for the public to have access to these indoor enclosures, but here at CERZA they don’t hide them.
Last but not least I would like to express gratitude for having entertainment and education facilities located together on one spot close to the entrance. On the one hand this means that the amount of children’s entertainment at CERZA Zoo is very limited (the kids miniature train and the petting zoo) and doesn’t disturb the peace and quiet around the animal enclosures. While on the other hand parents with children know exactly where they should be when their kids are fed up with looking at large interesting exhibits with extraordinary species.