Yesterday afternoon I focussed on the oldest part of the Zoo, so today I will explore the ‘newer’ parts. But first, I start where I left off yesterday, the ORANG.erie. These orangutan facilities comprises a nice outdoor enclosure, but an even nicer indoor section with a café in the northern wing. Originally, this was a greenhouse for exotic plants back in the 19th century, and later in 1920 it became a film studio for the Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF, the Austrian broadcasting company) until adjustments were made to house the orangutans in 2009. Especially the indoor enclosure is marvellous. Not only because of its size (750 m2) and the enrichment features, but more so because the four orangutans have access to different platforms at various heights where they can hide from the curious visitors if they want. An excellent makeover of an old building I would say.
Then I head for the African elephant enclosure. But before I arrive there I am surprised to find the white-handed gibbons outside on their islands, making themselves as small as possible. It doesn’t seem they like to be outside in the cold (is the door of their house locked?), and they look envious at the ring-tailed lemurs cuddling up in the warmth of their indoor enclosure. As you might expect during winter the trees that allow the gibbons to express their normal climbing behaviour are leafless, but unfortunately also rather small. Definitely not as big as in the gibbon enclosures of Emmen Zoo and Apenheul primate park (NL) or Paignton Zoo (UK).
Another surprise I experience before arriving at the elephants is the Birdhouse. Especially when you expect an old-fashioned row of aviaries inside the building you are in for a surprise. After entering the main part of the house it appears to be a walk-through aviary with a pond (including fish) and an excellent collection of savannah birds, such as hoopoe, Malachite sunbird, white-fronted bee-eaters, red-cheeked cordonbleu, Kikuyu white-eye, African jacana, blue-naped mousebird. All of them listed as , but anyway.…beautiful. Before entering the other walk-through aviary with tropical birds you pass a room with free-roaming Linné’s two-toed sloth. The tropical birds walk-through is as nice as the other one with blue-backed manakin, white-fronted amazon, sunbittern, blue-grey tanager, ruby-topaz hummingbird, purple honeycreeper and others.
After these surprises I arrive at the Elephant Park at the foot of the hill that is part of the Zoo grounds. It is a relative new enclosure built in 1996. The exterior of the elephant house has been designed in the same style and colour as the historic buildings of the Zoo, though the interior is absolutely modern, with viewing options at ground level and from a balcony. But most impressive is the large elongated outdoor enclosure, located at the outer perimeter of the circle around the Kaiserpavillon. Nevertheless all the elephants are inside, perhaps the snow is not attractive for them. Of the six African elephants three are born in Africa – one in Rhodesia (1975) and two in South Africa, Kruger national park (1992).
From the Elephant Park it is just a few steps to the Monkey House (das Affenhaus). An historic building of the early twentieth century that has been refurbished in 2009 when the orangutans moved house to the ORANG.erie. It’s still an old building but it has been made fit-for-purpose according current standards. Inside there’s a gallery upstairs with an exhibition on human culture and evolution. Unlike other excellent educational exhibitions and information panels in the Zoo this one is only in German.
The next part I visit comprises the extensions of the Zoo grounds of 1936 to the east and of 1993 to the north (uphill). When I arrive at the spectacled bear enclosure it starts to snow. The exhibit has got an undulating landscape that is situated uphill. It contains several dens, a small waterfall, a stream and lots of vegetation that unfortunately isn’t hardy, so, the enclosure is rather bare. Nevertheless it resembles the habitat of these bears in the Andean mountains.
Uphill in the forest, the tree top footpath provide some excellent views on the nearby enclosures, the zoo as a whole and even the city. While continuing my visit, passing the Tiroler farm close to the hill top, I see that a part of the forest is fenced off for two specimens of Eurasian lynx. Going downhill again another part of the forest is fenced off in a similar manner, and houses the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos) pack of at least 7 specimens. A litter of wolf cubs was born in May 2012.
Returning from my tour along the forested slope I briefly visit the Polarium, with northern rockhopper penguin, king penguin and South American sea lion, just across the path of the Humboldt penguin pool. Then, again, I follow the footpath along the spectacled bear enclosure with on the other side major works ongoing for the new polar bear exhibit, ‘Franz Josef Land’, of 1,700 m2. This means that polar bears will return in Vienna Zoo, scheduled for spring 2014, and hopefully the Zoo will continue its remarkable good track record on breeding with this endangered species. Adjacent to the future polar bear exhibit I enter the Rainforest House. It takes ages to get rid of the fog on my camera lens, because of the enormous temperature difference and the very moist environment inside the building. This walk-through house is built against the hill, and the height is used ingeniously to create various levels from where you can enjoy the many different plant and bird species, as well as the two large species of flying foxes. In the small bat grotto you can experience the smell of bat excrements (guano) and the near collisions when they fly around your head. The Asian small-clawed otters that also enjoy the jungle-like features of the Rainforest House should feel at home, because the small creek along the wall resembles their native habitat. Strangely, there are only two specimens, which is rather odd for such a social species that live in small groups. In summertime the otters have access to an outdoor environment with plenty of water to express their exploratory behaviour.
My final destination is the Rhinoceros Park where the endangered Indian rhinos are kept. But before I reach them I walk past the raptors aviaries. Unfortunately only the bearded vulture can use it wings for some free-flight experience. The other birds of prey, snake eagle, Ural owl and Egyptian vulture have less space available, which is the main objection I have against most aviaries in zoo – they are too small.
A little further down the path the Rhino Park is situated near the Neptun exit of the Zoo. These facilities are rather impressive and comprises a mixed species outdoor exhibit with rhino, axis deer, blackbuck and nilgai, and two large indoor enclosures where the two rhinos are kept separate. The size of the indoor enclosures is quite large compared to what I have seen in other zoos. Visitors that go inside can watch the rhinos as if they are on a theatre stage with straw bedding. Unless the pachyderms walk down the concrete steps towards the public. Because if they do, they come very close and you look down on them while they walk around in the moat. The outdoor enclosure is huge considering this to be a historic city zoo. The fact that they created a mixed species exhibit with the rhinos as the main attraction proves, in my opinion, that Vienna Zoo is constantly improving and modernising its facilities to meet current zoo standards. Although the exhibit is large it is not easy for the smaller ungulates to avoid a confrontation with the strong and destructive pachyderms. Therefore, escape routes are created with poles that have a space between them that allow the small and agile deer to pass but blocks the big rhinos. To give the public the opportunity to see more of the enclosure from a single position there’s a viewing platform that intrudes somewhat into the enclosure.
I had been looking forward visiting the world’s oldest zoo for some time, and now that I did I have to say that I am absolutely not disappointed. On the contrary, I like it very much. Most importantly, because the zoo shows that it tries to meet the ever improving standards for modern zoos, while respecting its historic values. Which is an enormous challenge, and costly as well.