|Epe Zoo is closed since 2015|
‘Dierenpark Wissel’ or Epe Zoo is located close to the township of Epe in the northern part of ‘de Veluwe’, a major forest area in the Netherlands. The rivulet that winds through the Park, ‘de Tongerense beek’, has been the life line for this area for over 450 years. Once the source of energy and water supply for flourmills, paper mills and laundries, now the source of life while creating islands and habitats for many endemic species. This natural situation has been ingeniously used to create different enclosures, of which some are similar, though smaller, to the environment of the exotic species in their country of origin. The many species of trees, shrubs and plants give a naturalistic appearance to the Zoo.
In 1711 the Jonker family built a farm along the Tongerense beek. This farm, which is still there, is adjacent to the zoo and was the only house in the vicinity at the time. Soon the farm got a water wheel and mill stones and Jonker started grinding his own corn. By the end of the 19th century, the farm became property of the family Overbosch. In the beginning of the next century the area came into the possession of Mr. J. Eshuis and the mill was now a dry-cleaning business known as ‘de Achterste Molen’ — the Rear Mill.
In 1953 Eshuis was succeeded by his son. He and his wife were real animal lovers and they started to collect and house various different species of animals on their property of about two hectares. Over time plans were developed to open their animal collection, now a small zoo, to the public. On Saturday 25 March 1967 the first visitors were welcomed to the zoological park that was named ‘Dierenvreugd de Achterste Molen’, which translates as ‘Animal Joy the Rear Mill’. It was a modest collection of monkeys, birds, kangaroos, and some interesting sheep and goats, like Soay sheep, Jacob (multi-horned) sheep, Ouessant sheep, Hampshire Down sheep, Damara sheep, and Markhor.
In January 1984 the Park was sold to J.Th. Wunderink. The new owner had several enclosures refurbished and visitor numbers increased to about 40,000 per year. He also changed the name of the Park into ‘Dierenpark Wissel’.
A further increase of visitor numbers was realised after another change of ownership in 1994, when the Zoo came into the hands of Palmary Parcs, a private company, now Zodiac Zoos. A new concept was developed and implemented in phases. In addition, the marketing was professionalised also.
When in 1997 ‘Dierenpark Wissel’ was invited to become a member of the Dutch Association of Zoos (NVD) a milestone was achieved. It was a breakthrough and meant that from an official and professional point of view it was recognised that this small zoological park delivered the same level of quality as the major zoos in the Netherlands. Further recognition was achieved when the Zoo was admitted as member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).
To ensure continuation of the business and to expand the Zoo a masterplan was submitted to the Town Council in October 2000. Unfortunately, the neighbours responded so negatively to the plans, that it was decided to withdraw the masterplan. In 2001, however, together with the Town Council it was decided to look for a new location to build this new and larger Zoo. A location suitable to support such a zoo (of 18 hectare) was found in the hamlet ‘Vemde’, between Epe and Heerde. A new name for the Zoo, Pangea Parc, was announced and a new website had been developed accordingly, but it turned out that Zodiac Zoos could not meet the expectations.
Finally, in February 2015 Zodiac Zoos was declared bankrupt. Zodiac Zoos owned two other zoos as well — Zoo Parc Overloon and AquaZoo in Leeuwarden. All three zoos owned and managed by Zodiac Zoos have been taken over by Libéma, a leisure chain of amusement and holiday parks in the Netherlands that already operate two other Dutch Zoos, Hilvarenbeek Zoo and Mierlo Zoo.
Libéma has decided to close down Epe Zoo immediately, because it had no viable future considering the inadequate possibilities to extend the park grounds, while at the same time most of the current enclosures are not up-to-standard. The animals will be relocated within the European network of collaborating zoos, EAZA.
(Sources: website Dierenpark Wissel; website Pangea Parc; Zoosite.nl; Omroep Gelderland, 18/19.02.2015)