Select a Zoo




Vis­it­ing a zoo in win­ter time is nor­mally not as nice as in other sea­sons, except when the zoo is located close to the equa­tor of course. Many ani­mals will be kept indoors dur­ing win­ter, because of the low tem­per­a­tures. Nev­er­the­less, it seems that it is becom­ing one of my per­sonal tra­di­tions to visit a zoo dur­ing a spell of freez­ing or snowy weather in win­ter. This time I went to Hanover Zoo in Germany.

At Hanover Zoo they are not afraid to have their ani­mals on dis­play in out­door enclo­sures when it is cold. Carl Hagen­beck and Ger­ald Dur­rell already said that most ani­mals can adapt to dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions, and there­fore ani­mals from the rain­for­est could be kept out­doors for instance in the United King­dom and Ger­many. Nev­er­the­less in some cases mea­sures are taken in Hanover to pro­vide their ani­mals, that orig­i­nate from warmer regions, a dry and warm place out­doors. Like the Bar­bary lions which have heated pan­els in the arti­fi­cial rocks to com­fort them. A few other species are sim­ply kept indoors, such as the giraffes, the pri­mates and the rhi­noc­er­oses. Another rea­son to keep ani­mals in their indoor enclo­sure is the fear of injuries when the ground is slip­pery due to ice or snow. For­tu­nately, many ani­mals that are not exhib­ited in their out­door enclo­sure have an indoor enclo­sure open to the public.

When they last refur­bished the Zoo, or per­haps the word rebuilt is more ade­quate to what hap­pened, they cre­ated so called Theme Worlds. They fol­lowed the novel way of zoo design called land­scape immer­sion, but took it to another level which you may call geo­graphic immer­sion. The aim is to have, on the one hand, ani­mals in their nat­ural habi­tat, and on the other hand vis­i­tors expe­ri­enc­ing this habi­tat also. As if they are walk­ing in the jun­gle for instance. At Hanover Zoo they try to make you for­get you are in Ger­many with the restau­rants and bars erected in local style too, and even the toi­lets remind you of the geo­graphic region you are vis­it­ing. They have gone to great lengths to turn the envi­ron­ment into a copy of the geo­graphic region the species orig­i­nate from. They took care of every detail. Like the toi­lets in the Zam­bezi Theme World, with the sinks as if they are made from recy­cled oil drums. But all of this with mod­ern and sophis­ti­cated equip­ment to make it sus­tain­able, such as ‘old-​fashioned’ taps with motion sen­sors. And the same counts for the facil­i­ties in Yukon Bay and other Theme Worlds.

The Zoo is built accord­ing the fol­low­ing themes: Zam­bezi (Africa), Gorilla Moun­tain (pri­mates), Yukon Bay (North Amer­ica), Jun­gle Palace (Asia), Out­back (Aus­tralia) and Mey­ers Hof (Ger­man). In addi­tion, there is the inevitable pet­ting or children’s zoo, called Mulle­wap. Except for Gorilla Moun­tain and the Out­back all Theme Worlds have their own gas­tro­nomic and shop­ping facil­i­ties. This is not the only fea­ture in which these sec­tions dif­fer from the others.

On Gorilla moun­tain the ani­mals are grouped species-​wise, with enclo­sures that houses only pri­mates from Africa (chim­panzee, gorilla and drill) and Asia (orang­utan and gib­bon). This stands out among the other themes where the ani­mals are grouped geo­graph­i­cally. The Out­back is dif­fer­ent in another way because it houses only four species (emu, kan­ga­roo, wom­bat and para­keets), which is a bit mea­ger com­pared to the other Theme Worlds. As if it was nec­es­sary to have species from the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent on dis­play, even just a few. This could explain the other incon­sis­tency to be found more or less around the cor­ner of the Out­back. There you can find the South Amer­i­can species nandu, mara, vicuña and capy­bara. The lat­ter three housed together in a mixed-​species exhibit. This sec­tion is not men­tioned as a Theme World, prob­a­bly because no spe­cific atten­tion has been paid to the enclo­sures to cre­ate a South Amer­i­can ‘feel’ about it. Per­haps this is a future endeavour.

Most strik­ing of the few incon­sis­ten­cies to be dis­cov­ered in the group­ing of the Hanover Zoo ani­mal col­lec­tion is the odd black-​footed pen­guin (from South­ern hemi­sphere) com­bined with the polar bears (from North­ern hemi­sphere) at Yukon Bay. This should be avoided, of course, for edu­ca­tional purposes.

More crit­i­cal remarks can be made, but that would not do jus­tice to the great expe­ri­ence you have while walk­ing from enclo­sure to enclo­sure and from theme to theme. There is only one shame­ful enclo­sure that I have to men­tion, but I come back to that later.

When enter­ing the Zoo the most obvi­ous route is to fol­low the signs to the Zam­bezi, where you enter Africa. Part of this 4,9 hectare Theme World can be seen from the water­side by boat, except in win­ter. But even in win­ter, as soon as you leave the entrance area you feel you enter a dif­fer­ent con­ti­nent. Lots of plants and trees are ever­green, which is an excel­lent choice by the botanists of the Zoo. The lush green dur­ing win­ter makes you want to expe­ri­ence the site when all trees are green.

information panelThe clay huts you pass on your way to the first mixed-​species exhibit, cre­ates the African atmos­phere which will stay until you enter Yukon Bay. The exhibit as such was empty because of the slip­pery icy floor, but nor­mally it would have been occu­pied by North African ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus), com­mon eland, Thomson’s gazelle and Grant’s zebra. Here I saw my first of the Zoo’s infor­ma­tion pan­els at the enclo­sures, a rus­tic design of metal engraved plates on wood. These pan­els pro­vide lit­tle, yet func­tional infor­ma­tion about the species on display.

A spec­ta­cle I had never seen before was the walk-​through exhibit with pel­i­cans (Pele­canus onocro­talus). These pel­i­cans can be touched and pet­ted, although a sign read that enter­ing was at your own risk. The pel­i­can pond was very small, which made it a bit of a shame, together with the pet­ting ser­vice they pro­vided. As you might expect, the pub­lic was enthu­si­as­tic about this exhibit, and the pel­i­cans seemed at ease though.

hippo poolNext were the hip­popota­muses that shel­tered for the cold in their indoors pool. Hid­den from the main walk­ing path you approached the pool’s view­ing win­dows via a gorge-​like side-​path. The pools are rather small, when com­pared for instance with the hip­podome in Cologne Zoo, but the water is sur­pris­ingly clear. The pool in the out­door enclo­sure is much larger, but dur­ing the cold period the hip­pos have to cope with the indoor situation.

The old­est build­ings and enclo­sures, as far as I could tell, were found behind the Zam­bezi show arena where sev­eral times a day enter­tain­ment shows are held star­ring species such as birds of prey, par­rots, rep­tiles and coatis. The old enclo­sures do not really fit in the ambiance of the Zam­bezi Theme World, and the out­door pad­docks are small for the species they keep, Kirk’s dik-​dik, low­land nyala and Roan ante­lope. The size of these pad­docks is absolutely not fit for pur­pose con­sid­er­ing the stan­dards nowa­days. The old giraffe house can also be found here, which houses five giraffes – two females both with a young and a sin­gle bull in a sep­a­rate cage. May the giraffe house be old-​fashioned, the out­doors enclo­sure is mag­nif­i­cent. A mixed species exhibit with Rothschild’s giraffe, bles­bok, spring­bok and Hartmann’s moun­tain zebra. The view from the slightly ele­vated roofed view­ing plat­form on the pad­dock is grand. And because part of the pad­dock is slop­ing towards the plat­form, the pub­lic will be in eye con­tact with the giraffes when they approach the plat­form to eat from the high level bas­kets there.

The Bar­bary lions appre­ci­ate what has been cre­ated for them, because in spite of the cold they were relax­ing on the ledge of heated rocks. The out­doors enclo­sure of the lions is on three sides sur­rounded by rocky walls with a few view­ing win­dows. On one side there is an open view­ing area built accord­ing the Hagen­beck prin­ci­ple with a moat to sep­a­rate pub­lic from the animals.

The jun­gle house (‘Urwald­haus’) at the foot of Gorilla Moun­tain houses most pri­mate species of Hanover Zoo. Inside this con­crete build­ing there is an undu­lat­ing foot­path that guides the vis­i­tor to the dif­fer­ent enclo­sures. With trop­i­cal plants and high tem­per­a­tures they have tried to cre­ate a jungle-​like atmos­phere, but unlike many other sim­i­lar jun­gle or rain­for­est houses in other zoos this one lacks humid­ity. So, the land­scape immer­sion failed a bit here. The enclo­sures con­tain a lot of arti­fi­cial enrich­ment. In addi­tion the Suma­tran orang­utan enclo­sure has partly wire mesh walls and roof­ing. There is also an exhibit with com­mon mar­moset, St. Vin­cent agouti and Linné’s two-​toed sloth. Fur­ther­more, West­ern low­land gorilla can be seen. The goril­las live in a group of ten, and the track record of the Zoo’s breed­ing results seems to be good. Unfor­tu­nately the chim­panzees were not on display.

In May this year Toto, one of the chim­panzees, showed that he was able to cross the moats that sep­a­rate the ani­mals from the pub­lic. And in July Maxi, Maleika, Chunya, Schika and Toto cre­ated a makeshift lad­der out of branches to break out of the out­doors enclo­sure dur­ing open­ing hours. This caused some panic among the vis­i­tors as you may expect. There­fore, the old chim­panzee enclo­sure is now being rebuilt to ensure safety for the chimps as well as the vis­i­tors. In the mean­time the chimps are not on display.

gibbon islandOut­side the jun­gle house where the ‘ascent’ to the moun­tain top starts the gib­bon island is sit­u­ated. The ani­mals were indoors, so I do not know how many the Zoo keeps, but regard­less of the num­ber of ani­mals this island is far too small. And not only is it too small, it does not pro­vide what a gib­bon needs, a canopy. To express nat­ural behav­iour a gib­bon requires tree tops in which he can swing from one to another. Well, this shame­ful gib­bon island pro­vides a few trees not higher than sev­eral metres, and that’s it.

The con­trast with the out­doors gorilla enclo­sure couldn’t be big­ger. When you arrive on top of the moun­tain, there is an undu­lat­ing hill­side which is quite enclosed and pro­vides a per­fect hid­den area for the goril­las to eat, to lie and to stroll with­out much dis­tur­bance by the visitors.

From Gorilla Moun­tain I walked to the Yukon Bay area which you enter via a mine shaft. It is a rough coun­try where the first ani­mals you encounter are the Macken­zie Val­ley wolves (Canis lupus occi­den­talis). These preda­tors are housed in an elon­gated enclo­sure along the ‘Yukon river’, adja­cent to the large undu­lat­ing ter­rain of the cari­bou. At sev­eral points in these enclo­sures eye con­tact between preda­tor and prey is pos­si­ble, which will increase the stress level for the cari­bou I sup­pose. Nev­er­the­less, it does not have great impact on the cari­bou breed­ing as the herd com­prises sev­eral calves.

Via an inter­est­ing mixed-​species exhibit with sand­hill crane (Grus canaden­sis), wood bison, cack­ling Canada goose, wood duck, wild turkey and hooded mer­ganser, and via the Yukon gas­tro­nomic area the high­light of Han­nover Zoo appears. The Yukon Queen is a cargo ship that has been recon­structed and immersed in the Yukon Bay, which took almost two years. From its deck you can view the two play­ful polar bear broth­ers (see the video) in their enclo­sure that con­sists of both a large pool and a large rocky area. On deck of the ves­sel the mis­placed black-​footed pen­guins from South Africa are housed. Below deck in the sub­merged part of the ves­sel the vis­i­tor can watch the polar bears play above and under water as well.This part of Yukon Bay is a real enter­tain­ment area, includ­ing the Yukon sta­dium where per­for­mances are held with Cal­i­forn­ian sea lions, grey seals, North­ern fur seal and white-​tailed eagle.

langur enclosureEnter­tain­ment is some­thing that is also pro­vided by the five young Asian ele­phants who com­pare their strength (see video) on the slip­pery snowy grounds of the large and var­ied pachy­derm enclo­sure of the Jun­gle Palace. This Jun­gle Palace Theme World is another metic­u­lously con­structed area with eye for details, that immerses the vis­i­tor in the world of an ancient Indian Mahara­jah. The dif­fer­ent palace gar­dens are used to house the ele­phants, Hanu­man lan­gur, Amur tiger, Per­sian leop­ard and there is an exhibit with red panda together with Reeves’ munt­jac (Munti­a­cus reevesi). Of these species only the ele­phant and the lan­gur are native to India. But when you think of the Jun­gle Palace rep­re­sent­ing Asia as a whole all species fit within the con­text. The Amur tiger as well as the Per­sian leop­ard are kept out­doors in ‘demol­ished’ parts of the palace with plenty of hid­ing places and sev­eral high level obser­va­tion posts. They are fully adapted to the cold so the snow is not both­er­ing them. The vis­i­tors can watch the ani­mals in their rather small enclo­sures from a dark room inside the palace which gives you the feel­ing of being a voyeur. The Hanu­man lan­gur fam­ily occupy a palace room that con­sists of bare stone and con­crete with straw bed­ding and ample enrich­ment in the form of chan­de­liers, chains, rub­ber ropes, tree trunks and the stairs with its banisters.

Though I object to keep birds in con­fined areas, because this hardly ever pro­vide enough space for the ani­mals to express their nat­ural behav­iour – fly­ing, I was impressed by the large aviary for the Andean con­dor and the Grif­fon vul­ture fur­ther down the walkway.

So, to con­clude I would say: this is a zoo that you have to expe­ri­ence instead of just go see the ani­mals. And when you visit this zoo dur­ing win­ter, do not for­get to bring your ice skates, because the Winter-​Zoo pro­vides many­fold enter­tain­ment, includ­ing a small skat­ing rink.

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

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


about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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