I took the tram (Strassenbahn) from Rostock Hauptbahnhof, and therefore entered the Zoo via the Trotzenburg entrance, Rostock Zoo’s historic entrance. Where a nice large pelican pond is situated with great white pelicans, which are not endangered. Since 1989 the Zoo’s main entrance which is off the Barnstorfer Ring at the newly acquired grounds west of the Rennbahnallee.
The first impression of Rostock Zoo is an imposing one. An impressive spacious green park landscape. This stunning first impression is emphasized by the fabulous entry at the Trotzenburg gate with the large pelican pond on the left.
The Humboldt penguin enclosure that appears next after the pelican pond is less impressive though. It has not been built with lots of imagination. It is not a very attractive design from the visitor’s point of view, but it has got a pool, dry grounds, nesting dens, and plenty of shadow from the surrounding trees. So, from the animal’s point of view it provides all the basic requirements, I assume.
Every first Sunday from early May until October the Zoo offers pony rides free of charge for small children at the events plaza (Veranstaltungsplatz). Close to this place the deserted enclosures for gorilla and ring-tailed lemurs indicate that something is going on at Rostock Zoo. Both species have been moved to the Darwineum about a year ago as part of a major improvement programme that started in the 1990s, and more is still to come.
Also in this area there’s an island for the South American white-fronted marmoset (Callithrix geoffroyi) that provides simple enrichment for the small monkey species. Unfortunately, the tree trunks and ropes allow the marmosets to climb to heights of max. 2 metres only, and I think they would like to see some vegetation added to the picture as well. Nevertheless, the reed and duckweed in the water-filled moat gives this enclosure a natural look, although the ugly concrete wall of the marmoset’s house opposite the viewer doesn’t fit in.
Sara, the elderly African elephant, enjoys the company of Cameroon dwarf blackbelly sheep (Ovis ammon f aries) — a most extraordinary combination. The newly constructed enclosure where Sara may spend her sunset years until she dies has various enrichment features. Nevertheless, I feel sorry for the elephant who spent almost her entire life on her own in captivity. More information about Sara .
Walking from the elephant enclosure past the Elephant lodge restaurant I arrive at the cheetah enclosure. This consists of a house around which the outdoor exhibit is situated. You can have a look inside the indoor enclosure, something you don’t see often anymore in modern-day zoos. The savannah-like outdoor paddock offers reasonably well sheltered areas with trees, tall grass and shrubs.
Opposite the cheetahs and the large open top walk-through aviary, there’s an aviary annex reptile house which comprises birds from various continents as well as rodent species and reptiles such as gekkos and snakes. The birds do not have many space in these aviaries, which is different in the walk-through aviary for waterfowl and wading birds across the footpath. This forested area with its pond can be considered a landscape immersion exhibit. The visitor is forced to stay on the footpath simply by its elevation. The slightly undulating landscape, the trees, the ponds, and the small suspension bridge makes this an impressive exhibit for the visitor. But to keep the pelicans, the egrets and the storks inside they are all pinioned of course, which prevents them from taking off.
From the other end of the walk-through aviary it is just a few steps to the big cats section. The African lion enclosure houses a lion pride that consists of four rather fat individuals that can choose between a high level post and a grassy meadow close to the water-filled moat at the viewing area. Further away from the public they have access to a slightly sloping terrain with trees and shrubs. At the viewing area there’s a cabin where visitors – more or less hidden from the lions – can watch them. The indoor enclosure for the lions at the other end of the exhibit is small with concrete walls and little enrichment. Again, like at the cheetah enclosure, the animals can be observed when they are inside. This time via enormously large viewing windows.
Adjacent to the lion house there’s a similar indoor enclosure for jaguars, connected to a jungle-like outdoor exhibit with lots of vegetation such as bamboo, including many shelters and small pond. Their neighbours, the snow leopards, are housed in a similar outdoor enclosure with additionally a bare rock face wall to at least try and create some resemblance to the habitat of these ‘ghosts of the mountain’ in the Himalayas. For a snow leopard this is a very green and therefore atypical environment. To give the visitors the opportunity to watch the snow leopards secretly from a different angle, and at the same time experiencing the mountainous area of this beautiful long-tailed cats, it is possible to climb a staircase at the back of the wall to a lookout. Strangely there’s electrical wire on top of the already high fences that surrounds the exhibit – seems overkill.
In between the big cats section and the bears you’ll find the binturong, or bearcat, which is coincidental of course, nevertheless appropriate. A small indoor enclosure with a fairly large outdoors that comprises only a little bit of vegetation (bamboo) next to many artificial enrichment features. Unfortunately, two thirds of the enclosure is surrounded by wire mesh fences, which creates a very exposed area. The adjacent enclosure houses drill. Both these enclosures are not top-notch, I would say.
This brings me to something else at this point of my tour, the grouping of Zoo’s animal collection. Obviously, it is not by habitat or geographical region, considering neighbouring enclosures for African lion, jaguars and snow leopards and binturong next door to drill. On the other hand a consistent grouping according the taxonomic tree, which seems to be the effort, has not been realised yet in the oldest part of the Zoo. This is understandable, when you consider that the economic situation of the Zoo must not have been very prosperous during the period of the German Democratic Republic, where Rostock belonged to. Many other things had to be improved first, before less important issues as the grouping of their collection could be addressed.
Continuing with my tour I see on the left a large forested paddock with elk (including a calf), while on the other side there’s a moated exhibit for the world famous Kodiak bears of Rostock Zoo. Since 1956, when they first came to Rostock, 85 cubs have been born and raised here. Offspring of Rostock’s Kodiak bears can be found in many zoos worldwide. The current two Kodiak bears alternate in the outdoor enclosure because the male is too impetuous for the elderly female (see also the ).
Next door the polar bears are kept, with whom Rostock Zoo have had a very good breeding track record as well. Therefore, they coordinate the International Studbook (ISB) for polar bears since 1980. But the last polar bear cub has been born 10 years ago. And with the current three bears nothing much can be expected, because the elderly male is housed separately due to his aggressive behaviour towards the two females. He now occupies the ‘mother-and-cub’ exhibit which is his retirement home.
Although all bear enclosures are built according the moated bar-less Hagenbeck-style, they are old-fashioned and need to be upgraded. The Zoo appreciates that the bear enclosures should have better and various enrichment features to meet contemporary zoo standards. Therefore, new enclosures are planned.
Around the corner and just above the elephant lodge restaurant a nice large ring-tailed coati exhibit is situated. The coatis are allowed to explore outwith their exhibit. They have access to the surrounding trees in the visitor’s area via ropes, but are prohibited to descend of course. I assume that the moated enclosure has been used by a different species before the coatis got accommodated here. Nevertheless, these little rascals must have the time of their life in this great enclosure. They share the exhibit with a raccoon dog, which originates from a whole different geographical area, Asia, while the coati is indigenous to South America.
On my way to the tunnel that runs under the Rennbahnallee and connects the two parts of Rostock Zoo, I pass the historic hoofstock exhibit in the oldest part of the Zoo. Already since 1900 exotic hoofed species were kept here. Nowadays, they keep lechwe (Kobus leche), Roan antelope and Thomson’s gazelle in small herds. The large walled paddock allows the animals to roam around the historic house.
Then I push on to the Darwineum to have a late lunch, because I spent a lot of time already in the old part without taking the time to eat something in one of the eateries. After I have satisfied my hunger and thirst in the restaurant of the Darwineum, I proceed with my tour with renewed energy. The Darwineum with its tropical hall and large outdoor enclosures for primates is the latest asset that Rostock Zoo has added to its facilities as part of the improvement programme that started in the 1990s. Besides building new enclosures and improving old ones that meets the newest standards for keeping animals in captivity, they introduced a concept of thematic and adventurous exhibits. As you can imagine the Darwineum focusses on evolution, and more specific evolution of primates with mankind as the ultimate outcome, for now. There’s an exposition on evolution, how life on earth as we know it began and evolved. And there’s a variety of primate species to add visual experience to the educational value of the exposition. For me this started with a lunch on the terrace of the Darwineum with an excellent outlook on the outdoor enclosures of the Bornean orangutan (see ). This terrace is large enough to stay dry while a heavy downpour passes by.
The tropical hall comprises several enclosures which are all connected to the respective outdoor enclosures. In one of the enclosures three Bornean orangutans share their exhibit with one white-handed gibbon. This is a great solution of course for the gibbon, which is a very social species, and in the wild they share the same habitat as well. Although the gibbons brachiate in the canopy which is not the normal habitat of the heavier orangutans.
The tropical hall offers viewing from two levels. Besides ground level there is an elevated walkway which gives ample opportunity to see the animals display a variety of behaviour, that seems natural to me. The hall contains lots of natural vegetation and artificial rock face walls, partly to make everything more attractive for the visitor. Nevertheless, to please the animals and provide them with something else than a dull hygienic concrete floor, there’s grass and ground cover on natural substrate as well. As you might expect in such a modern facility there are many enrichment features, such as tree trunks, ropes, high level wooden platforms and more. One of the enclosures has a small stream as well. A sloth, named Sidney, roams around freely in the public area.
The western lowland gorillas share their exhibit with Debrazza’s monkey. There are two troops of gorillas, one is a reproductive family troop led by silverback Assumbo born in Jersey Zoo. The other troop consists of elderly ‘retired’ animals.
The large outdoor exhibits of the Darwineum are all surrounded by water-filled moats, with an additional electrical wire in the middle of the moat at the gorilla enclosure. All outdoor primate enclosures have large trees, shrubs, high level platforms and other enrichment features such as ropes. It just seems that all of these outdoor facilities are merely fenced off parts of the original forest.
At two point along the outer rim you can secretly invade the primate territory via a footpath to a sheltered cabin with windows in the centre of either the orangutan or gorilla outdoor exhibit.
The ring-tailed lemurs probably appreciate their transfer to the new enclosure near the Darwineum, as it is a huge improvement. Especially their outdoor exhibit – which is foreseen to be a walk-through exhibit – provides a spacious environment, though it lacks large trees.
At Rostock Zoo there are several mixed-species exhibits for birds and hoofstock, but the most impressive one regarding size is the 2 hectare paddock for hoofed animals in the new part of the Zoo. It comprises African ungulates such as bactrian and dromedary camel, Chapman’s zebra, eland, and watusi cattle. In this particular exhibit they protect the vegetation from being eaten by creating a sort of corral of brushwood around the vegetation.
At this newer part of the Zoo there are only three predator species to be found, Eurasian otter, raccoon and African wild dog. The otter are housed together with raccoons. This is a very modern approach as only since raccoon have been introduced into Europe as pets, escaped and established a stable population in for instance Germany, these two species can actually meet in Europe. The large elongated enclosures with hidden pipes in the rocks, dead trunks and some grass, have a connecting pool along the total length. Furthermore, there’s at one end another pool with a viewing window – probably where the feeding of the otters takes place.
The African wild dog have their savannah-like enclosure at both sides of the footpath. It has wire mesh fences all around, but vegetation is used to hide these fences as much as possible. Something that could be done at the big cats section as well, to make the cats less exposed, at least in my opinion.
The signage — education
Throughout the Zoo you will find different styles of information panels, probably dependent on the period the respective enclosure was built. For instance not all are multilingual, and just provides explanation in German. But all of them have a lot of text and no graphics are used to explain for instance the species’ original habitat or its conservation status. Instead you have to read a lot of text to access this basic information. In addition, all over the premises many forms of education can be found with the ultimate form of course: the evolution exposition at the Darwineum.
On my way back to the Trotzenburg exit I return to the old part. One of the exhibits I omitted during my first round in the old part is the Eurasian lynx enclosure. For a species that is indigenous to forested areas the enclosure is, in my opinion, not fit-for-purpose. The lynx are very exposed, because there’s wire mesh fences all around and no vegetation whatsoever. Since 1900 the Lynx had become extinct in Germany while already in the Middle Ages people started to exterminate the species systematically. It was valued for its fur and was considered a competitor for hunters. Nowadays they try and reintroduce the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) in the wild in the Harz. Therefore, I expect Rostock Zoo to be involved in this reintroduction programme, but I haven’t found any proof thereof – neither in the guidebook, the information panel nor on the Zoo’s website.
Another exhibit that should be mentioned is the Crocodile House with its free roaming black-mantled tamarin (Saguinus nigricollis), which take part in the European Endangered species Programme. The South America House is my last stop on my way to the exit. It is one of the examples how Rostock Zoo improved keeping animals in confined areas, and introduced themed exhibits. It comprises brown capuchin (Cebus apella), golden-handed tamarin (Saguinus midas), large hairy armadillo, kinkajou (Potos flavus), common marmoset and parrots. The small mammals are nicely housed. The visitor is guided via colorful dahlia flower beds to the entrance of the house. Here you enter a facility where the lights are dimmed as if you enter a jungle where the light is filtered by the vegetation. The footpath has a wood chip bedding to give it a more natural feel. The animals have plenty of enrichment, but not a lot of foliage. You can go upstairs where a footbridge guides you along the outdoor enclosure of the capuchins. Unfortunately, I am late and it had rained so the monkeys are alreay inside.
Rostock Zoo management has got a large space at its disposal and they use it very elegantly. It is not crammed with exhibits, as a consequence the premises still looks like the large green park landscape it originally was. It allows the visitor to relax, unwind and recharge, while at the same time learn about the animals on display. It is remarkable for such a large zoo that they do not have big herds of hoofstock of the same species, which is possible, absolutely. Also remarkable is the fact that they do not keep rhinoceroses, giraffes and elephants (Sara is about to die and will not be replaced). It is a choice they made here at Rostock Zoo, and this needs to be respected. Besides a zoological garden the Zoo is a botanical garden as well. The best example of an exotic tree species at Rostock is the sequoia that has been planted in 1883 by forester Robert Schramm near what has become the Trotzenburg entrance. It is an enormous tree now, and a monument to the Zoo’s history.