The zoo was founded in 1937 as a zoo for native species with fallow deer and wild boar as well as other Central European animal species. The gates were opened to the public for the first time on 25 July 1937. Although initially focussing on native fauna, the zoo housed rhesus macaques and crab-eating macaques right from the start. It was not until 1965 that the zoo changed its concept and focussed more on exotic non-European animal species.
Since 1973, under its scientific director Wolfgang Salzert, the zoo gained national prestige due to many new enclosures and its commitment to species and nature conservation. In 1974, the first walk-through primate exhibit in Germany was opened at Rheine Zoo, the Monkey Forest (‘Affenwald’) with Barbary macaques. Descendants of these first inhabitants are part of today’s colony of Barbary macaques.
The gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada) was introduced in the Zoo’s animal collection in 1980, and the first infant was born in 1982. Since in 1989 Rheine Zoo proposed the establishment of an European Endangered species Programme (EEP) for the gelada baboon and in 1990 an international studbook was endorsed, both are coordinated by Rheine Zoo. Currently, the Zoo has the largest group of this unique primate species of any zoo worldwide, which is inter alia a result of a good breeding track record.
Over the years many of the changes and improvements supported the overall concept of creating close up meetings between humans and animals, thus between visitors and inhabitants. A few of the more recent developments are the new seal and penguin facilities of 2004, the hill for sloth bear and golden jackal of 2009, the extension of the tiger exhibits and the stork aviary of 2010, and the Lemur Forest of 2016.
A full historical narrative to be added
(Source: Wikipedia; Vom ‘Heimattergarten’ zum modernen Zoo – 75 Jahre NaturZoo Rheine, Paul Nienhaus, 2012)
Rheine Zoo advertises itself as a zoo where the visitor will meet animals up close. What they exactly mean by this and how this influences the zoo visit is something I wanted to experience myself for a long time now. So, finally, on a Sunday in May 2016 I enter this ‘close encounter’ Zoo. Right after the entrance on the left the Zoo shows that, although small in size (13 ha), they think big when it comes to modernisation of enclosures.
The brand new outdoor lemur 2000 m2 exhibit, opened on 30 April 2016, and called Lemur Forest comprises , and is open for a visit only on Sundays and holidays. As I am not in favour of close encounters without any barriers I would suggest they skip the option of walking through the exhibit completely. Visibility is great, also from outside the enclosure, so why intrude into the lemurs territory. Unfortunately only the ring-tailed lemurs were outside. The Lemur House with the indoor lemur exhibits is larger than I thought it would be when I saw it at first from the Lemur Forest side. Additionally, all the lemurs have also access to outdoor enclosures that are situated on the other side of the building from the Lemur Forest. This new lemur exhibit just recently opened and is built were previously the petting zoo was situated. The latter has moved to the far end of the Zoo grounds near the Australian and South American walk-through exhibits.
Before I press on to the gelada baboons, which is one of the expected highlights of Rheine Zoo, I stop at the coati enclosure. This member of the raccoon family (Procyonidae) can be found in many different habitats in the Americas, so it will adapt easily to different circumstances I assume. The large bar-less moated enclosure with trees and artificial climbing enrichment will therefore be fit-for-purpose. Apparently, the pool is an excellent habitat for native green frogs.
Rheine Zoo is renowned for its gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada) breeding results. The species was introduced in the Zoo’s animal collection in 1980, and the first infant was born in 1982. The Zoo has the largest group of this unique primate species of any zoo worldwide. Actually, there are too many of them considering the space available according to a statement of the Zoo director during a guided tour that’s part of my visit. However, the animals live in good harmony right now, in a troop that consists of several family groups. Since in 1989 Rheine Zoo proposed the establishment of an European Endangered species Programme (EEP) for the gelada baboon and in 1990 an international studbook was endorsed, both are coordinated by Rheine Zoo. Unlike other baboon species which tend to retire into trees, gelada baboons retreat onto steep rock faces. They live in large troops in the wild and are found only in the Ethiopian Highlands. The two large bar-less enclosures, that are situated left from the entrance in a corner of the Zoo grounds, contain features that mimic the baboon’s original habitat, such as grassy paddocks and vertical walls made of big stones and cement. The number of offspring that runs around in the enclosures shows the current breeding success the Zoo has with the gelada baboons. One group of the baboons is scheduled to be transported to Rotterdam Zoo when the old lion exhibit in Rotterdam is renovated, redesigned and ready to receive the primates.
After navigating my way back to the other side of the grounds it is obvious that the Sumatran tiger exhibit has been extended over the years. It now consists of two outdoor enclosures which differ quite remarkably from each other. One is very green with grass and all sorts of enrichment, including trees, trunks and a pool. The other has absolutely less vegetation to offer for the tiger, and is rather bare compared to the other enclosure. Both tigers choose to stay inside during my visit, but they are free to go outside if they wish to do so. Within one of the outdoor enclosure there’s an old-fashioned cage, a relic of the past, that is connected to the large extension as an annex. The newest outdoor enclosure has a tunnel running through it with viewing windows on both sides. This lowers the viewing level, and makes the tiger even more impressive than it already is. The building that supports the tiger’s indoor enclosure also houses South American macaws and marmosets, next to tarantulas in terrariums. This is a good example of how they group their animal collection here at Rheine Zoo – in the most convenient manner I would say. The criterion for convenience in this case means enough space for a fit-for-purpose exhibit. And fit-for-purpose means a large naturalistic enclosure that suits the species’ needs, including enrichment by having several species together in one exhibit, if possible. In mixed-species exhibits the species either have the same geographical distribution or live in similar habitats in the wild.
Walking from the tiger exhibits to the Barbary macaques walk-through I first pass on my left a paddock with tortoises that neighbours the Small Animal House with several small rodent species and the royal python. On my right the bactrian camel is next, while a bit further on the left 1 herd stallion, 1 to 6 females and their offspring. So, the small harem’s lack of other herd members here at Rheine Zoo could interfere with the development of normal social behaviour.Chapman’s zebra (Equus quagga ssp. chapmani), one of the plains zebra subspecies, are on display in a straightforward, perhaps a little bit old-school, paddock with sandy substrate. In the wild, Chapman’s zebras live in herds of up to tens of thousands of individuals which are made up of family groups and bachelors. Such a herd comprises harems with permanent members consisting of
In 1974, the first walk-through exhibit in Germany where both humans and primates could freely roam the area, was opened at Rheine Zoo. This forested area, called Monkey Forest (‘Affenwald’) is still a visitor’s favourite. Close encounters with the teeth of the Barbary macaques, the local inhabitants, should not be taken lightly, therefore the strict rules must be obeyed at all times. Basically, these rules say: do not feed the macaques and do not touch them. According the Zoo’s website descendants of the first inhabitants are part of today’s colony of about 30 Barbary macaques. It is a great environment for the macaques, although not similar to their original habitat in the Atlas mountains of Morocco and Algeria. The thought of being a distraction in the daily life of these macaques when wandering around in the Monkey Forest, in other words being one of the enrichment features, makes a visit interesting. Nonetheless, in my opinion, it would be best if we humans could just leave them alone and let them do whatever they want, and only observe them without intruding into their territory.
Close to the Monkey Forest there’s a section with numerous birds in several aviaries. First I walk through a large and beautiful marshland aviary with bird species such as little egret, cattle egret, scarlet ibis, roseate spoonbill, pied avocet and speckled teal, that have sufficient space to fly around. Moreover, the large pond allows the birds to show natural foraging behaviour, while the vegetation adds to the naturalistic habitat and the trees provide perches for the birds to roost. Adjoining this aviary the Waldrapp ibis (Geronticus eremita) enclosure has an observation spot inside the exhibit that is perfect for photographers. In the Bird House situated next to the Waldrapp ibis enclosure lives world’s largest swarm of village weaver birds (Ploceus cucullatus), about 170 of them. From April until late summer the male birds show their spectacular courtship behaviour and nest building capabilities. Two other aviaries in this section are positioned opposite from the large walk-through aviary along the footpath that leads to the Australian walk-through exhibit. Both these aviaries have owls on display. The aviary with snowy owls and great grey owls is accessible for visitors and has a good spot for shooting footage. A short video of the two great grey owl in the walk-in aviary gives an impression of the size of this aviary:
The other owl aviary houses 2 specimens of Eurasian eagle owl.
From here I first walk through the Australian section with emu and Bennett’s or red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), which both have had offspring recently. I expect the lama herd in the adjacent South American walk-through will have offspring as well in about 350 days, the lama gestation period, because the sexual endeavours within the herd lead to seemingly successful copulation 😀 (see the ).
Then it’s time for lunch. The restaurant is centrally located and offers a decent choice of German food, including ‘bratwurst’ and ‘currywurst’, which of course should be accompanied by a nice German weissbier 😋. Such good quality deserves its own website they must have thought, which is quite remarkable for a zoo restaurant, but fair enough I would say. I definitely enjoyed my lunch. For the convenience of parents there is a ‘play garden’ near the restaurant’s terrace where children can go on an adventure tour. Or perhaps they can first drop their kids off at the adjacent zoo school to learn about nature.
I resume my tour around the premises once I have eaten my meal. It would be nice to stay put for another 30 minutes and have another drink in the warm spring sunshine, but I still have to cover nearly half of the zoo grounds. Thus I return to the far end of the Zoo opposite the entrance where three adult sloth bear and together with two golden jackal are housed in an uphill situated enclosure. This is a combination of species I have never seen before. There’s a habitat overlap of these species in the wild due to the large range of the golden jackal from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to Southern Asia, but the habitat overlap is minimal. The long grass in the enclosure allows the jackal to hide when lying down, while the bear’s enrichment comprises a climbing frame and a pool. It is a pleasant surprise when I discover that the bears and jackals have access to the area on the other side of the hill as well. While one hillside is bar-less and moated, the other side has fences all around an undulating landscape. The fences have vegetation grown at the visitors side to prevent the animals to be too much exposed, except for the viewing window where a large pool will offer good views on bathing bears.
In this corner of the grounds there are two other exhibits worth mentioning, because the third one – the new petting zoo – is not my cup of tea. One of the Zoo’s many walk-through exhibits is located here. The Seabird aviary harbours Humboldt penguin together with Inca tern (Larosterna inca). Due to the Inca tern this couldn’t be an open top enclosure of course, but it is rather spacious and allow the Inca tern to fly around freely. I suppose the enclosure design mimics the original coastal habitat of the Pacific coast from northern Peru to central Chile where both species can be found in the wild. The large pool, rocky ground and the rock face does at least simulate the Chilean coast that I once visited, but didn’t see any Humboldt penguin or Inca tern. The next-door harbour seal enclosure is an ‘old-school’ exhibit, although built and opened to the public at the same time as the Seabird aviary, in 2004. It focusses on public entertainment with its large pool and grandstand, although the exercise and requested performance during the feeding hours enrich the seals’ life as well.
The Zoo is well-known for the large number of white stork that breed in its grounds, annually. From mid-March to the end of August, about a hundred pairs of white stork breed at Rheine Zoo. You can see and hear them on their nests all over the place, while most of them gather at the specially assigned meadow, the Stork Reserve, at feeding time. For many years, this white stork colony was considered the largest in North Rhine Westphalia, but nowadays it is probably the largest colony in the whole of Germany. These white stork are free to go, but the exotic black stork and Abdim’s stork are kept captive in a large walk-in aviary that is built at the edge of the Stork Reserve.
From the stork area I make my way to the Monkey House (‘Affenhaus’) that is situated along the edge of the premises and where lion-tailed macaques are housed as well as cotton-top tamarin. These two primate species will never meet each other in the wild considering their geographical distribution, respectively India and Colombia, although their habitat in the wild is quite similar – tropical (rain)forest. It looks to me that the original housing of the lion-tailed macaques once consisted of one indoor enclosure which gave access to three outdoor cages. And that in a later stage, during redesign and progressive thinking the macaques were rewarded with access to a large open top outdoor exhibit across the visitor’s footpath. To provide the primates with a safe passageway, two steel wire tunnels connect the cages with this large outdoor exhibit.
When I return to the exit at the end of my tour I visit the island for the gibbons that lies between the children’s playground and the Lemur Forest. Having a separate playground for children a bit tucked away, as they have done here, has always been my favourite. Not only is there a place for parents to go to when their kids have reached the limit of their absorption ability of educational information, but at the same time the screaming of human offspring is contained in one single area. The gibbons have to cope with this, but fortunately their island comprises lots of vegetation that muffles many sounds. There aren’t any large trees for the gibbons to display their natural talent for swinging through the canopy, but there’s plenty of enrichment to allow them to brachiate using the ropes and wooden climbing frame. The gibbon indoor enclosure is rather small though, and especially very low, which qualifies as unsuitable when the gibbons have to stay indoors for longer periods due to bad weather.
Rheine Zoo is, as advertised, a bar-less zoo with many walk-through enclosures and close encounter opportunities. In the original surroundings of a natural forest they have stretched the idea of bringing humans and animals close together to the limit I would say. In general, I do not support physical interaction between zoo visitors and animals, because I do not see the value for the animals. In the case of the walk-through exhibit with Barbary macaques I think there’s a considerable risk that someone will be bitten by a macaque, because people in general want or will try to touch them. This could lead to a nasty bite with far reaching consequences, of which going to the hospital to get a hepatitis B shot is just a slim one. And will the Zoo’s legal obligation be fulfilled by warning people to obey the rules when entering the exhibit?
As said in the beginning I wanted to experience this Zoo because of the close encounter opportunities and naturalistic exhibits they created. So, I did. And it was good, although my earlier remarks about the value and risks of close encounters still stand.
Gelada baby riding piggyback on its mum
Watch the gelada infant tighten its grip when mum bends over to drink from the stream.
Feeding time for the geladas
To see this gelada troop enjoy their afternoon vegetables and fruits is a delight in itself. There’s a certain routine of how they eat, and they respect each other’s space – except for the little ones of course.
Sexual endeavours within the herd of lamas
Llamas breed lying down in a prone position (male on top), and copulation may take up to 45 minutes. This being shown by the lamas in Rheine Zoo’s walk-through paddock in the best educational manner you can imagine. Unfortunately, the young male has not paid close attention and turns mating into female abuse.
The information panels at the enclosures of Rheine Zoo give concise but good information on the species’ habitat, biology, feeding habits and geographical distribution, although only in the German language. Fortunately, besides the scientific name, the name of the species is given in English, and because the Zoo is located close to the German-Dutch border in the Dutch language as well. The geographical distribution in the wild is depicted on a world map, but there is not always information available on the species’ conservation status. And when the threats to the species’ survival are described it is not accompanied by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ classification, the universally used species conservation status review. The Zoo’s website shows the same gaps regarding this issue. Moreover, for those people not very familiar with the German language and a general interest in the Zoo’s activities in the field of conservation, as well as , it would be helpful if not only the homepage basics would be available in Dutch, but also the efforts on nature conservation too, and of course in English as well.
directions to Rheine Zoo, NaturZoo Rheine
The city of Rheine is located along Motorway A30 that runs in west-east direction and connects to several other motorways that crosses North Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony.
The city of Rheine is well-connected to the German railway system, so it shouldn’t give you much trouble to get there by train.
When you arrive in Rheine main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) you can take the bus to the Zoo. Or if you like walking you can walk the 2.2 km that separates you from the Zoo entrance.
Routeplanner and timetables for the trains (Deutsche Bahn) to Rheine are available here.
From the bus station (Bustreff, D/4, situated on the corner of Bahnhofstrasse, Poststrasse and Matthiasstrasse) near Rheine railway station, bus no. C12 (direction Saline, Rheine) will take you in about 10 minutes to the bus stop at the Zoo. The bus runs every half hour.
The countryside around Rheine featuring the river Ems is well-known for its cycle paths. So, why not go to the Zoo by bicycle when you happen to stay in a hotel or on a campsite near the city. When you arrive by train, there’s a bicycle rental shop (Radstation Rheine) at the Kardinal-Galen-Ring 56, very close to the railway station. Planning your route is supported by the online (interactive and printable) city map (in German) here, while the website komoot shows you the nicest routes from every place of departure.
There are bicycle racks to safely store your bike to the left of the entrance building.
From either direction on Motorway A30:
Take exit no. 7, Rheine-Nord, and follow road B70 to Neuenkirchen until road B 65⁄481. Then take the Weihbischof-d’Alhaus-Strasse to Rheine Zoo (signposted as NaturZoo Rheine)
From Münster/Greven via the B481:
When you arrive in Rheine, follow the B481 until then turn right to the Weihbischof-Dalhaus-Strasse to Rheine Zoo (signposted as NaturZoo Rheine)
When using navsat please make Weihbischof-d’Alhaus-Straße your destination.
Parking is free.