It was about time to revisit Rhenen Zoo, because in five years time many zoos show minor or major changes. This counts for Ouwehands dierenpark in Rhenen as well. They altered the visitor’s experience of the Bear Forest and introduced two clouded leopards in 2016, but this is trivial when compared with the enormous giant panda exhibit Pandasia that was opened on 30 May 2017. Trivial because of the enormous budget necessary to erect this grand building, but also because of the enormous hype that was created after the arrival of the two giant pandas was announced in October 2015.
However, not only the changes interest me. I hope to see one or more orangutans climbing the futuristic red poles that allow them to enjoy themselves high above the public ‘outside’ their enclosure. Unfortunately, like during my 2013 visit, no reddish hairy ape is willing to give me the satisfaction of showing how relaxed they are while residing on the poles. Another disappointment at the orangutan enclosure is the information panel that simply mentions orangutan without specifying the subspecies. The scientific name clarifies that it concerns the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), but the regular zoo visitor doesn’t know that the scientific name provides more and therefore better information than the name of the species stated in Dutch, English and German. So, the Zoo may improve the educational value of the information panel.
Signage and information
In addition to the lack of information on which subspecies is actually on display there is no reference made to the conservation status according the IUCN Red List classification. For example the panel at the roloway monkey enclosure mentions that the species is very endangered, but this provides no credible reference to its Red List status, which is a classification system widely accepted by scientists, NGO’s and governments. According the Red List the roloway monkey is Endangered. The name of the species is provided in Dutch, English and German, next to the scientific name.
There is a worthwhile description, in Dutch, of the species on appearance, behaviour, dietary habits and threats, including basic information on biological features such as weight, gestation period, litter size and life span. Unfortunately, the description in English and German is shortened. The geographical origin in the wild is depicted on a world map, the only information made graphically available, which is a shame because that way of displaying information universally understood.
It took about 16 years of consultation and preparation – with the owner of Rhenen Zoo, M. Boekhoorn, as the driving force – to finally convince the Chinese government two giant pandas should be sent on loan to the Netherlands – more precise Rhenen Zoo. The Zoo in Rhenen is now one of few zoos worldwide outside China and the only zoo in the Netherlands where giant pandas are on display. They went to great lengths building a suitable enclosure, Pandasia, here in Rhenen, they even won an award for most beautiful giant panda enclosure worldwide, for what it’s worth. Pandasia, comprises two buildings to separately house the male and female panda. The buildings are connected by a wooden bridge and surrounded by the outdoor enclosures. The traditional Chinese roof and frontage construction built by craftsmen from China resembles the design of a Chinese temple. The indoor accommodations have several night quarters, a nursery and a cold store for bamboo storage. In addition, there is an à la carte restaurant and a gift shop with a lot of panda merchandise. Adjacent to the Pandasia area (size of about 9000 m2) another new enclosure of considerable size houses red panda together with Reeves’ muntjac. Unfortunately, the enclosure lacks large trees for the red panda to find a nice place to sleep high above the ground, their favourite.
The Bear Forest
This superb section of the Zoo has gone through some relevant changes since my last visit. This is reflected in the new name, Expedition Bear Forest. The expedition starts with things worth knowing about bears at the fictitious, nonetheless, picturesque hamlet Karpatica that emulates a small village in rural Eastern Europe – its name reminiscent of the Carpathian mountain range. The village square gives access to the Bear Forest via an archway. The elevated walkway runs inside a tunnel of wire mesh and crosses the enormous (2 ha) bear sanctuary in the middle. Another one of the changes is the separate enclosure for Malayan sun bears at the end of the expedition bear forest trail, near the ‘Observation Post’. The two female Malayan sun bears came from in Germany. At the Tierpark in Berlin it was obvious they couldn’t house four Malayan sun bears in the small enclosure any longer, so they decided to move two of them to another zoo.
The ‘Observation Post’, opened on 25 August 2016 as the final stage of Expedition Bear Forest, is a mutipurpose building. It tells the story about threats to brown bears in Europe and has the skeleton of bear Mackenzie, one of the first inhabitants of the Bear Forest, on display for educational purposes. Furthermore the large viewing windows provide ample opportunity to observe the sun bears showing their natural behaviour (see ). Therefore, the hut is also available for researchers of Rhenen Zoo and students of universities. More information about the Bear Forest .
In July 2017 the last of the original pack of four wolves that lived together with the bears, died. The Zoo immediately started a quest for a small pack of young wolves that can handle bears in an enclosed area such as the Bear Forest. The presence of the previous pack of wolves successfully stimulated natural behaviour in both species, so the Zoo wanted to continue to enrich the life of the bears by introducing wolves again. Apparently they succeeded, because when I visit the exhibit I see at least two wolves exploring the area. Hopefully it will not lead to the same confrontation as was registered on 30 October in Mierlo Zoo (Dierenrijk), where one of the wolves living with the brown bears in the same enclosure for enrichment was suddenly attacked and killed.
November 2017 the Zoo announced the expected arrival of 7 bonobo at some moment in the summer of 2018. A brand new enclosure will be built for the bonobos where previously the Bactrian camels and yaks were kept, close to the orangutans. Although the camels and yaks have gone and the jungle express, the local monorail, stopped running, the bonobo exhibit has not materialised yet. Due to the increased building costs the enclosure design must be changed, which leads to a considerable delay – the new date for opening is expected around Easter 2019. Therefore the foreseen construction site is temporarily turned into a large playing-field for children.