The Zoo is located in between busy roads in a neighbourhood close to the city centre. The Zoo is therefore an escape from this busy environment, because after the small but elegant entrance you enter a green landscape that enables you slow down your pace, literally and figuratively. Like in Cologne Zoo many Shona art sculptures are to be found scattered around the premises (see gallery).
First enclosure on the left after entering the Zoo is a mixed-species exhibit with species from South America, greater rhea (ñandú) (first hatching of nandus at Krefeld Zoo on 21 July 2016), guanaco, capybara, lowland tapir and white-faced whistling duck (Dendrocygna viduata). Though said differently on the announcement board near the entrance (‘all bird species are kept inside due to a recent avian influenza outbreak in Germany’), the greater rhea are outside, even the young ones that hatched in July as Krefeld Zoo’s first. These young chicks that are already quite large are provided with heat lamps to lure them into the outdoor enclosure and keep them warm. On one side of this exhibit there’s only a 1.50 metres high fence separating the animals from the visitors. This will lead to physical contact between bold greater rhea and visitors I assume. On the other side of the exhibit a pool/water-filled moat is used as a physical boundary for most species, though it is an excellent spot for swimming for the capybara. The white-faced whistling duck aren’t pinioned. I’ve seen them leaving the enclosure and fly around, even leaving the Zoo territory.
Opposite this mixed-species exhibit three Bactrian camels are kept in an extraordinary outdoor enclosure. It is a simple paddock with a most amazing small dry moat surrounding it. I’m surprised the camels do not leave this area, because the moat doesn’t seem to create an insurmountable barrier for these long-legged creatures, but it must be the abrupt step down from the small wall around the paddock that holds them back.
The next enclosures that follow suggest that the grouping of the animal collection here at Krefeld Zoo is probably haphazard and not consistent. Because I walk from the Bactrian camel (ungulate, Asia) via the Hamadryas baboon (primate, Africa) to the giant anteater (insectivorous mammal, South America), arriving at a section with exhibits for jaguarundi (small cat, South America), hyacinth macaw (bird, South America), porcupine (rodent, Africa) and the Eastern or Mt Kenya black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza kikuyuensis; primate, Africa). So, there’s a mix of species from a different geographical and evolutionary background. Such a variety may be inspiring for the ignorant visitor, but it doesn’t enthuse me, because I wonder what’s the educational message here for exactly this ignorant visitor? In the real world most of these species will never meet, therefore it requires some explanation about their different geographical origin. Unfortunately, this is not done in so many words. Nevertheless from this point onwards the species on the Zoo grounds are grouped somewhat more logical, in what they call ‘animal worlds’. Although these worlds may contain species from similar taxonomic groups such as predatory mammals, birds, primates or a variety of butterflies, or species that originate from a similar habitat such as the rainforest, African savannah and Asian plains.
But let me first get back to an extraordinary inhabitant of the ‘haphazard’ section. When I passed the outdoor exhibit of the colobus monkeys my eye fell on a little rascal that was enjoying himself just outside of the enclosure. It was a young black-and-white colobus monkey that apparently managed to break out. After I quickly took some pictures, I decided a zookeeper had to be informed. Right at that moment I saw the sign that said ‘Warning, little jailbreaker!; but don’t worry!, he always goes back to his family’ . So, they were familiar with this little one breaking out on a regular basis. He had found an opening in the fence big enough for a monkey of his size to squeeze through. The zookeepers couldn’t find the hole but were sure he would stay inside as soon as his body size outgrew the size of the hole. Considering this malfunction of the colobus monkey exhibit I believe it is noteworthy to mention that the enclosure is packed with enrichment features but, like in many other zoos, it lacks tall trees. And the crown of tall trees are not an unusual place for colobus monkeys to hangout in the wild. Nevertheless the height of the enclosure is about 10 – 12 metres. The other enclosures in this section are also not outstanding but their modest quality can stand the comparison with enclosures for similar species in many other zoos worldwide. For instance the small indoor enclosure for jaguarundi has many high level platforms along the wall, and wood shavings as substrate. The small cats will appreciate the observation posts, I assume, and also the floor with natural material instead of having cold and easy to clean tiles to walk on.
The second ‘animal world’, after the mixed-species exhibit with South American species, I encounter is the one situated at the back of the recently renovated restaurant. This section houses various predators from different continents, but definitely not all predators that belong to the Zoo collection. The jaguarundi I already saw, and the Sumatran tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and California sea lion are kept elsewhere. The Eurasian otters have a decent pool, and dry land for that matter, at their disposal. A few rocks in the pool provide the perfect sunbathing spot, while the higher level ground with a tree in the centre contains several dens. Next-door, or actually back to back to the otter enclosure, the bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) occupy a similar exhibit, but the pool might be called a water-filled moat in this case. On the other side of the otter enclosure there’s a serval exhibit situated on a slightly higher level. The servals have three small cabins at their disposal that serve as shelter or den. The water-filled moat has got an overflow into the otter pool, which is the third connection of all three aquatic areas in the enclosures of the bat-eared foxes, otters and servals. The fourth predator species in this section is the snow leopard, that produced its last offspring on 4 May 2015. One in a successful row of births in the Zoo’s snow leopard breeding programme, with a tally of over 50 yet. This big cat of the Himalayas is housed in an exhibit that consists of three different parts which all have a sandy substrate and many boulders that provide high level resting platforms. Although every part has a different height the maximum is about 5 metres, limited by a wire mesh roof, which is unsatisfactory low for this agile climber. Fortunately, enrichment is provided in the form of trunks, balls, sheepskin and a jute bag on a rope. To limit the snow leopards’ exposure they grow vegetation against the wire steel mesh fences, because the large viewing windows offer already sufficient viewing opportunities for the visitors.
Opposite the snow leopards another Himalayan predator species is kept together with Chinese muntjac. The red panda is indeed categorised as a predator, but its main source for sustenance is bamboo, though they may eat small mammals, birds, eggs, flowers, and berries. The enclosure is more or less circular as you can see in many zoos nowadays, but not always do they have so many tall trees for the red panda to explore (see video). This part of the grounds, surrounded by a footpath, has also another species from Asia on display, the siamang. This gibbon species, however, has far less space at its disposal than the red panda. It is kept in a cage that is absolutely not fit-for-purpose, and they should be ashamed to keep this species — that roams the rainforest canopy in the wild — in such terrible unnatural conditions.
Another South East Asian species, kept in what I would call the big cat corner of the premises, is the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger. Although the enclosure is not very large, the many different features — such as fallen trees, pools, small creek, undulating grounds and natural vegetation — makes it an attractive enclosure for visitors to see. Whether the male tiger experiences the enclosure similarly attractive may be questioned due to the very obvious pacing paths. A nice additional touch as part of the Zoo’s educational effort is the children’s footpath where they can search for five different tracks tigers leave behind in the forest. Next-door in this corner three jaguars, a female and her two cubs of 10 months old (born 8 February 2016), are housed in an enclosure that is fully covered with wire-netting supported by load bearing poles. These poles are wrapped in sisal rope and therefore act also as scratching posts. There are several other enrichment features, but all-in-all the jaguars are quite exposed in this exhibit — and there is visual and auditory contact with the environment which you can see in the video. To further enrich the jaguars’ direct environment with olfactory compounds the male jaguar is given access to the exhibit during the night. The third big cat in this section, where street sounds are clearly audible, is the cheetah. They are kept in two adjacent enclosures with plenty of shelter and even some space for exploratory behaviour, but showing natural behaviour like high speed running is absolutely impossible — as in many zoos, unfortunately. Opposite this combo of big cats from South East Asia, South America and Africa respectively, a large flat paddock with a few trees, logs and boulders, harbours two African species. Species that — even before the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) became extinct in the wild — would never met each other in nature, because the southern ground hornbill’s native habitat is more to the south on the African continent and savannah-like instead of desert-like.
When I follow the footpath along the enclosures at the edge of the premises I see in consecutive order, the goodfellow’s tree kangaroo — for which Krefeld Zoo coordinates the European Endangered species Programme, Dall sheep, musk ox, the nowadays inevitable snowy owl and the due to refurbishment temporarily closed tropical Bird House. So, yes you can find a mix of species from different geographical origin or taxonomic groups here too.
At this point the obvious continuation of my tour leads to the appendix of the Zoo grounds which ends at the Gorilla Garden and more or less makes the Zoo embrace the Grotenburg football stadium of KFC Uerdingen 05. Before I reach this great ape exhibit I pass the red river hogs in their muddy compound, the mountain anoa (Bubalus quarlesi) in a beautiful exhibit with lots of vegetation, the muntjac and the eastern grey kangaroo. And opposite these species a superb outdoors enclosure with grassland for Aldabra tortoises and pools for magpie goose and great white pelican. As you can see there’s a building to keep the tortoises warm during the cold seasons in Germany.
Then I arrive at the primate section that include the aforementioned Gorilla Garden and the Great Ape House (Affenhaus). Since 1975 western lowland gorillas are kept in Krefeld Zoo. The current troop of six, of which the youngest is born in the Zoo on 6 May 2015, occupy a 1200 m2 outdoor exhibit, opened in 2012. The adjoining indoor section Gorilla Villa, however, is rather small in my opinion, though it consists of three connecting parts. The next-door Great Ape House has been named wrongly, because besides great apes it comprises monkeys as well. This building dedicated to primates was opened to the public in 1975. It has enclosures for Bornean orangutan, chimpanzee, western lowland gorilla, pygmy marmoset, silvery marmoset and a mixed-species enclosure for white-faced saki and green acouchi (Myoprocta pratti). In addition birds (Brahminy starling and red-whiskered bulbul) and bats (Gambian epaoletted fruit bat) are flying around freely. The enclosures for the small monkeys are much more attractive, due to the amount of vegetation, than the great ape enclosures that lack greenery and not only look far from natural, but will be experienced as such by the animals, I suppose, with its bare concrete coated floors and artificial climbing enrichment. To compensate for this poor environment puzzle feeders are added to challenge these animals’ intelligence. There are two orangutan exhibits that have small windows in the separating wall that allow visual and physical contact between the individuals kept in these two separate enclosures. Apparently, the environment they created for the orangutans is good enough for them to breed, because a birth in 2010 has recently been followed by a newborn (5 February 2016) that is born to mother Lea, her third offspring. The troop of five chimpanzees make the most of it, while the western lowland gorillas in this building have more space available than their conspecifics in Gorilla Villa. This enclosure can be considered a retirement home for the Zoo’s gorillas and currently houses three elderly, silverback Massa (45 years old) and his two wifes Boma and Tumba (43 years old). All three have been born in the wild, in Cameroon, and came at a young age to Krefeld Zoo when the Great Ape House was opened in 1975.
Returning to the main part of the Zoo grounds I see that on the Africa Savannah the greater kudu, impala and ostrich have ample space to roam. Unfortunately, here as well as at other enclosures, species that in the wild live in large herds have only a few representing individuals in small herds in Krefeld. This could impair the possibility to express natural behaviour. Adjacent to the Savannah area the House for pachyderms comprises pygmy hippo, 2 Asian elephants and black rhinoceros. The Zoo is well-known in Germany for successfully keeping and breeding the Critically Endangered black rhinoceroses. Their track record with a single pair of rhinos shows five offspring, with the latest being born on 22 August 2016. Also in 2016 the rhino outdoor enclosure has been enlarged to support the Zoo’s ex-situ breeding efforts and improve the conditions for the rhinos. Together with this development there’s currently work in progress on an African style lodge that harbours a terrace overlooking the Africa Savannah, including the rhino enclosures, and a brand new meerkat exhibit — scheduled to be opened in 2017.
It already is getting dark when my tour around the premises ends at the Rainforest House. First I take a slight detour visiting the Penguin walk-through. In 2014, 20 Humboldt penguins and a colony of Inca terns found a home in the new Penguin Pool. A rocky coastal panorama, designed after the natural habitat of the Humboldt penguin, the coastal area of Chile and Peru, opens up onto a 800 m2 natural enclosure at the foreground of which a water basin with a surface area of 250 m2 is embedded in a dune landscape. The agile swimming birds with their “underwater wings” can be observed through a large panoramic window. In addition, there is a path through the middle of the enclosure bringing visitors and birds close to each other. The Rainforest House is a walk-through exhibit as well, where you walk around on raised boardwalks above large aquatic areas and a footpath that winds through lush vegetation. You can have close encounters with species such as white-faced saki, Linne’s two-toed sloth, iguana and tamandua, but many more species are housed here, including poison dart frogs and green anaconda. The latter has such a large terrarium at its disposal that it is hard to spot it — I can’t, which is a good thing, in my opinion.