CERZA Zoo, or CERZA parc zoologique Lisieux, is a zoological park located in Hermival-les-Vaux, a municipality of 1000 inhabitants near Lisieux, Normandy, France. It was established in 1986 as CERZA, which is an acronym for Centre d’Etudes et de Recherché Zoologiques Augeron (centre for zoological studies and research Augeron). The Zoo – born as an idea for a new kind of zoo – was founded by Thierry and Patrick Jardin, two enthusiastic brothers of 22 and 26 years old, respectively, both fond of nature and wildlife. On the vast grounds of the original 50 hectares they pursued their views on maintaining high standards for welfare of the animals in captivity by keeping them in enormously large enclosures. It is part of their vision on nature conservation and safeguarding endangered species. Their original idea and believes were considered utopian by many. Nevertheless CERZA Zoo opened its gates to the public on 1 May 1986.
Since the opening, CERZA’s reputation kept growing – not only with the public, but also with professionals from the world of nature conservation and wildlife protection. Some 30 years later, Thierry Jardin takes pride in having inspired his peers (zoo managers) and laymen alike about the necessity of introducing innovative ethics in favour of animal welfare.
Their original success in mind, the Jardin brothers proceeded in a similar way with a park dedicated to feline species at Auneau (near Chartres), which they founded in 1998. Due to a lack of space they moved the cats from Auneau to the Parc des Félins in Nesles, just southwest of Paris, in 2006. Nowadays Thierry Jardin is owner of CERZA Zoo, while his brother Patrick runs the zoo in Nesles.
The animals in the ever expanding CERZA Zoo – in 2017 its size has grown to about 70 hectares – already from the outset lived in semi-freedom in enormous enclosures with environments resembling their original habitat. It is assumed that right from the start, besides the know-how of the staff, the quality of these semi-natural environments enabled the Zoo to procreate species that rarely or never before reproduced in France or in Europe, such as white rhinoceros, Indian rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, gelada baboon (largest troop in France), black-crested macaques (only troop in France), spectacled bear and Abyssinian ground hornbills.
A specific feature CERZA developed was the ‘real’ safari experience. In 2006, as the first French zoo, they erected safari lodges for overnight accommodation at the edge of the premises with view on the animals in the Asian Valley. This was inspired by the experience Thierry Jardin and his wife had when travelling and staying in large African and Malayan wildlife parks. So, this concept offers visitors a similar kind of safari experience without travelling long distances and spending lots of money. Due to the success and the demand for more comfort 16 of the original existing 26 lodges have been upgraded to premium lodges, in 2016.
A view on the Asian Valley:
Every year, a novelty is introduced, be it a new species or a new experience. The objective is to increase the attraction of the park by enhancing the visitors’ experience. The increasing visitor numbers (310,000 in 2015) seems proof of the success of the development of more modern landscape immersion exhibits and close encounters between man and beast, such as feeding giraffes and rainbow lorikeets.
In 2016 the Zoo redesigned part of the forest as an enclosure dedicated for three different lemur species. In this walk-through exhibit, including even a small Malagasy village, close encounters with these curious primates can occur.
The ‘Valley of the Brown Bears’ was opened in 2017. Five bears are housed in a 2 hectare exhibit that comprises a waterfall, a pool, forest and some other behavioural enrichment features.
As might be expected CERZA is not only involved in conservation , they participate in captive breeding programmes of 44 species, but through its association CERZA Conservation the Zoo supports numerous conservation projects in the wild in Africa, South America and Asia. Individuals and companies can join the association, created in 2000, and their donations are tax-deductible. The funds raised are entirely donated to projects . CERZA Conservation has been working in Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Niger and Senegal. In total, more than 208,000 € have been donated.
Perhaps as remarkable as the enormously large exhibits at CERZA is the lack of a children’s playground. The only ‘idle’ activity for children could be considered the kids safari train which is just a miniature train riding along fake animals and habitats. Other activities that include children are educational classes and a small petting zoo.