History was created in this Zoo right from the start when Carl Hagenbeck, the Zoo’s founder, introduced his ideas of bar-less enclosures. Visitors in the beginning of the 20th century were impressed with what they saw, animals in their natural, though artificial, environment without any disturbing bars or fences. Even nowadays some awesome views are provided in Hamburg Zoo with the old enclosures that date from last century. Even for the experienced zoo visitor who has seen modern sites with landscape immersion exhibits will not be disappointed by Hagenbeck’s ‘old’ enclosures. At a closer look you can see that for instance the artificial rock formation for the Himalayan tar and Barbary sheep requires some renovation, but it is still fit for purpose.
The first exhibit you encounter after entering the Zoo is one of the most impressive exhibits, I think. Not only because of the building or outdoor enclosure design where the Asian elephants are kept, but also because of the herd of 11 specimens of this magnificent species? The Zoo’s breeding track record is impressive as well with three young, born in 2007, 2008 and 2009, being part of the current herd. The indoor enclosure is designed with Indian ornaments to ensure that the visitor discover () they are watching Asian elephants. But whatever decisions have been made regarding this kind of enclosure design in Tierpark Hagenbeck, it has never been done to the detriment of the animals at stake, as it seems to me. The elephants have a large pool and a waterfall at their disposal, and they do take showers according to images I found on the Internet. From a balcony you have excellent views on the indoor enclosure.
Tierpark Hagenbeck often uses deep moats in their enclosure design to make sure the animals stay inside and visitors stay outside. These moats have been introduced by Carl Hagenbeck when he created the bar-less enclosures which allow for unobstructed viewing. An achievement that has been copied ever since and that became a new standard for animal enclosure design in zoos. An example of such a moat can be seen here, where you see one of the elephants shows that the moat is no obstacle to get close to the visitor. A visitor, who — in former days — probably brought some treats for these pachyderms.
The Sumatran orangutans are housed in a dome-shaped indoor enclosure with a jungle-like habitat, including natural vegetation, rocky platforms and many ropes for enrichment. The public has access to a viewing terrace separated from the primates by a water filled moat. Inside, a small snack bar is available, which could inspire people to buy some food or a beverage, but more importantly it could inspire them to sit down, relax, eat or drink, and take some time to watch their fellow primates minding their own business and go on with their daily routine. Which is something I always try to do, taking my time to see how the animals cope with their captive situation and whether their behaviour is natural or not. As far as I can judge within the limitations of my knowledge, of course.
The orangutans share their exhibit with Asian small-clawed otters, which did not show themselves during my visit, unfortunately. Normally, these critters are very enjoyable to watch.
In the far corner of the Zoo’s Asian region the Amur tiger does not have access to large facilities, as a matter of fact the enclosure with natural vegetation is rather small. There’s not much enrichment and it lacks good shelters, but there are several plateaus to lie down and sleep or observe. As in many zoos nowadays there is no access for the public to the indoor enclosures of the carnivores.
The North Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis) enclosure is one of the few exceptions regarding enclosure design, as it is absolutely not bar-less, but has wire-mesh fences all around. Except for one side where there’s also a viewing window. Strangely enough this feline enclosure lacks good shelters too, like the tiger enclosure. They have got four specimens on display, probably because Tierpark Hagenbeck is the coordinator of the European Endangered species Programme for this endangered leopard.
The Zoo’s animal collection is grouped according geographical regions as much as possible. So, as the leopard is the last species of the Asian region you enter another region, this time the American region. The wapiti and bison represent North America, with the wapiti in a small bare paddock, but still good enough to have them breed. Two calves were born October 2011. A mixed species exhibit with alpaca, nandu and capybara represent South America, but the flagship species here is the giant otter.
The South American giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) are very loud when they are hungry. At least hunger appeared to be the reason for their loud and nervous behaviour when I arrived at their enclosure. They travelled between their outdoor and indoor enclosure, jumping in and out of the water, producing loud shrieks, until their needs were satisfied: a bucket with fish (see video). These agile aquatic carnivores are great to watch and the way they eat the fish with amazing speed is entertaining as well.
Inside the building of the giant otters the visitor is in for a surprise. There, he will see two species from two different continents (South America and Africa) so close to each other as if the two tectonic plates have never drifted apart. Just across the aisle with on one side the otters, the visitor can see baboons. These African species have an indoor rock face for climbing enrichment, and the ground cover consists of straw and hay which they are busy eating. It is a large tranquil group of baboons with many young!
Two species that easily cross the boundaries of the geographical regions in the Tierpark, because they roam around freely, are the Patagonian mara (Dolichotis patagonum) and the Chinese Reeve’s muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi). That is rather different than the peacock, which you see roaming freely in many zoos in Europe.
The world famous artificial cliff that has been constructed in 1896⁄7 still exists! It is situated more or less in the centre of the Zoo and marks the border of the African region. You can walk nearly to the very top where you have a great view of the entire Zoo grounds. This cliff, resembles the natural environment for the Barbary sheep on one side, and the Himalayan tar on the other.
My personal favourite is the design and location of the African lion outdoor enclosure close to the savannah mixed species exhibit and just across the footpath of the Chapman zebra and ostrich exhibit. Although the lion enclosure is historic and lacks enrichment, the animals have access to several observation posts, such as a tree trunk. The enclosure is built like an amphitheatre with a rock face on three sides and a moat (of course!) at the visitor’s side. That allows the visitors to have a good view on the lions, but vice versa the lions have an unobstructed view from several observation posts on the neighbouring exhibit with two of their natural prey species, zebra and ostrich. The lion pride comprises eight animals (four adults of which one male, and four cubs born 31.03.2011)
The Tierpark does not have many small (tropical) birds on display. Several large bird species such as cranes, flamingos and eastern white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) can be found throughout the park (all of them pinioned unfortunately), and there are two flightless bird species: nandu and ostrich. Furthermore, there are three aviaries. The ‘Arahaus’ has green-winged macaw (Ara chloroptera) on display in one of the world’s largest macaw aviaries of about 4000 m3. An old bird house (‘Vogelhaus’) is situated across the work in progress that will lead to a new ‘Eismeer’ , an arctic display of polar bears, penguins, sea-lions and sea birds to be ready in 2012. Another larger aviary is to be found a bit further down the path, with a variety of South American birds such as scarlet ibis, inca tern, black-necked swan and boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius).
While navigating back to the entrance/exit and towards the Tropical Aquarium I passed the historic Jugendstil gate that served as an entrance in the old days. A few steps further the Kamchatka bears reside in a fine example of Hagenbeck design, with artificial rocky cliffs, undulating grounds, trees and the inevitable water filled moat.
The Tropical Aquarium
The Hagenbeck Aquarium is more than just another aquarium building. It is a huge landscape immersion exhibit with not only fish and reptile species, but mammals and birds as well. And it is full of surprises, especially when you expect another endless row of aquariums and vivariums. It is like a maze of (sub)tropical exhibits with around every corner something exciting and surprising. The bat grotto, the gigantic crocodile basin, the shark and fish tank with its phenomenally large viewing window, the ring-tailed lemurs and the free flying loris, are all examples of the mix of ingredients that give you a taste of the South American, African and Asian jungle. It is an experience, with an impressive abundance of diversity. Personally, I think it’s a bit of an overkill this diversity, but that is just a matter of opinion, of course.
As said before the animal collection is grouped according geographical regions, Asia, North America, South America, Africa, Australia. Just a few outliers can be identified such as the ring-tailed coati (Nasua nasua) from South America that is housed in the Asia area, and the Brazil tapir close to the African region. In addition, there is a grouping of species according their habitat, the arctic zone (‘Eismeer’) and the (sub)tropical rainforest (‘Tropen-Aquarium’).
A lot of respect is being paid to the Zoo’s history. Not only by having on the premises a statue of Carl Hagenbeck — the Zoo’s founder, a bust of his father — Gottfried Claes Carl Hagenbeck, and the original Jugendstil entrance as a kind of memorial, but also by using several of the original (still fit-for-purpose) enclosures that originate from the period that the Zoo was still called Stellingen Zoo.
Hamburg Zoo is a well-organised zoo with commendable few animal species and lots of space. The Zoo has got several big ponds and large meadows, which are just open space and not turned into an enclosure. Most of the enclosures fit Carl Hagenbeck’s view that animals in captivity should be presented without anything obstructing the visitor’s view. Besides the aviaries, I could only identify two exceptions, the wapiti paddock and the North Chinese leopard enclosure. The founder would be grateful if he knew.
In the winter restaurant you are still being waited at your table — something that is quite exceptional these days in zoos around the world, where everything is self-service.