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His­tory

The Safari Park ‘Beekse Bergen’ is located on grounds, in the province of Noord-​Brabant in the south of the Nether­lands, belong­ing to the munic­i­pal­ity of Hil­varen­beek. These grounds were pur­chased in 1924 and 1938 by the city of Tilburg to use it, among oth­ers, as train­ing facil­i­ties for the Dutch army. Both coun­cils of the munic­i­pal­i­ties wanted to exploit the grounds and started to extract sand. The large pond of 70 hectare that was cre­ated as a result of this exploita­tion attracted lots of locals who liked to relax there. So, the munic­i­pal coun­cils devel­oped plans to turn it into a leisure park, which opened in 1964, Speel­land ‘Beekse Bergen’.

In 1968 the first safari park of the Nether­lands opened its gates to the pub­lic. It was part of, and named after, the leisure park ‘Beekse Bergen’. At that time it was not yet a safari park as we are used to nowa­days, but just a large, 60 hectare, fenced ter­ri­tory. The devel­op­ment of the Lion park was a mutual invest­ment of the two munic­i­pal­i­ties of Tilburg and Hil­varen­beek, and the owner of the leisure park. From the 1st of June vis­i­tors could enter the park in their own car and watch the four dif­fer­ent groups of lions, a total of 40 spec­i­mens. So, the peo­ple being caged in their cars, and the ani­mals roam­ing around free. Lion park ‘Beekse Bergen’ was designed and cre­ated by Jimmy Chip­per­field, an Eng­lish show­man and cir­cus direc­tor, who intro­duced the ‘drive-​through’ safari park con­cept in the United King­dom in the 1960s, such as Lon­gleat and Woburn Abbey.

The Lion park was very suc­cess­ful in the begin­ning, with some­times long rows of cars, full of peo­ple wait­ing for hours to expe­ri­ence this nov­elty. After a few years the num­ber of vis­i­tors went down, and in 1970 other African ani­mal species were intro­duced to attract more peo­ple and keep the park viable. The first species to arrive were chee­tahs and baboons. The name of the park was changed into Safari park ‘Beekse Bergen’. And already in 1972 the first suc­cess­ful breed­ing of chee­tahs in a Dutch zoo was recorded. This, indeed, was a tremen­dous suc­cess, because chee­tahs had proven to be dif­fi­cult breed­ers in cap­tiv­ity. Like they did not pro­duce off­spring in Lon­don Zoo for years, but a year after their intro­duc­tion in 1966 in Whip­snade wild ani­mal park the first cubs were born.

Dur­ing the 1970s there was a steady influx of species, white rhi­noc­er­oses, zebras, water­buck, com­mon eland, sable ante­lope, lamas, nandu, ostriches, giraffes, wilde­beest, moun­tain sheep and gems­bok. As a kind of proof that the zoo was run accord­ing good zoo prac­tices, in 1976 another remark­able suc­cess was noted, the first rhino was born in the Nether­lands. A few years later, in 1978 African hunt­ing dogs were intro­duced, as were the first tigers.

In this period the influ­ence of Jimmy Chip­per­field faded and there was more empha­sis on nature con­ser­va­tion and edu­ca­tion. In 1980 the Safari park joined the Dutch Zoo Asso­ci­a­tion, and again extended its ter­ri­tory with sev­eral hectare, now 120. This allowed for intro­duc­tion of some dif­fer­ent species of ungu­lates, like Prze­wal­ski horse and sika deer, and a boost in the num­ber of visitors.

Early 1980s, the walk­ing safari was intro­duced, as requested by the pub­lic who wanted to leave their car, prob­a­bly caused by the oil cri­sis. A small part of the grounds was des­ig­nated for peo­ple to walk along some enclo­sures with small ani­mals, like ring-​tailed lemurs, squir­rel mon­keys and pen­guins. Just as in a reg­u­lar zoo. In addi­tion free flight shows with birds were started, in 1984, which still attract a large crowd a few times a day dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. Apart from enter­tain­ment, the fly­ing is good exer­cise and essen­tial for the birds to express nat­ural behaviour.

Unfor­tu­nately, the Safari Park’s finan­cial sit­u­a­tion dete­ri­o­rated, and the own­ers – the munic­i­pal­i­ties of Tilburg and Hil­varen­beek, wanted to close down the Park or sell it. A quick response by loyal vis­i­tors, who estab­lished the Foun­da­tion of Friends Safari Park, pre­vented clo­sure, and in 1987 the Park was pri­va­tised (Libéma BV, a com­pany who owned sev­eral leisure parks and zoos already). This gave a boost to what­ever was nec­es­sary, because finan­cial invest­ment was what the Park had been wait­ing for. New sta­bles were built and the ani­mal col­lec­tion was com­ple­mented. Major changes were made to the Park’s design and infra­struc­ture. The Park got a more nat­u­ral­is­tic design, fences and build­ings were removed or hid­den behind foliage. The ani­mals were placed together accord­ing the geo­graph­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the wild. A canal around and partly through the Park was dug, and in 1990 vis­i­tors could embark on a boat safari, which enhanced the total expe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing the Park.

Dur­ing this period the Safari Park joined sev­eral Euro­pean Endan­gered species Pro­grammes (EEPs) and even became coor­di­na­tor of the EEP for cheetahs.

All through the 1990s changes and addi­tions were made, which led to a walk­ing safari of about four kilo­me­ters across the grounds of the Park. Although vis­i­tors still can use their own car to drive through the park, the intro­duc­tion of the bus safari is a suc­cess. So, nowa­days dif­fer­ent kind of safaris are offered to the pub­lic, by foot, by boat, by bus or own car, and this means that for a total expe­ri­ence of the Safari Park the vis­i­tor should allow for one full day at least. As all safaris are dif­fer­ent and pro­vide dif­fer­ent views on the ani­mals, and — most strik­ingly — do also not inter­fere with each other. The buses, cars and boats do not dis­turb peo­ple doing the walk­ing safari.

Since Safari Park ‘Beekse Bergen’ is pri­va­tised there is on-​going work in progress. Addi­tions and dele­tions to the ani­mal col­lec­tions are made, pre­ceded with changes to enclo­sures. The most strik­ing addi­tions are made in 2006 with the intro­duc­tion of four ado­les­cent male goril­las and a group of chim­panzees from the Dutch pri­mate research cen­tre in Rijswijk. And last but not least the birth of a tiger cub after 25 years. Cur­rently 1300 spec­i­mens of 110 ani­mals species are on dis­play on 140 hectare.

(Source: web­site Safari Park Beekse Bergen; web­site ZOOsite​.nl; Wikipedia)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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