There’s huge refurbishment ongoing on the right hand side after the entrance as part of the ‘Zoo der Zukunft’ when I visit Leipzig Zoo. The Masterplan that came into effect in 2000 will make Leipzig Zoo a modern and resilient zoological facility comprising five theme worlds (Africa, Asia, South America, Pongoland, Gondwanaland) and the historical Founder’s Garden. Several new enclosures have already been realised, with Gondwanaland as the masterpiece for which the Zoo has received worldwide recognition from the zoological community. At the entrance there’s work in progress on a new flamingo exhibit and a new exit.
Besides men at work I discover a hodgepodge of species in a small area, right after the entrance. This historical part is called the Founder’s Garden. In this part it is as if the visitor is provided a sneak preview of what to expect in the thematic sections. In this case a snapshot of species representing different geographical regions (Asia, South America, Africa), habitats (mountains, forests, cold regions) and taxonomic Classes (birds, reptiles, fishes, mammals). The most peculiar exhibit perhaps is the pool which houses the single Baikal seal together with black-footed penguins (Spheniscus dermersus). Two species that will never meet in real life, as the seal lives only in the waters of Lake Baikal in the northern hemisphere and the penguin is confined to southern African waters. It could be that refurbishment is planned for the old penguin enclosure (much nicer) which currently houses a variety of duck species. And that for the time being the penguins have moved in with the seal. But this is just a wild guess.
The Aquarium is one of the oldest buildings of the Zoo and houses many species that are grouped and presented in many basins, according their original habitat. The second floor, accessible via a spiral staircase in the centre of the building, has a large aquarium along the wall of the circular room. This provides a panoramic view on the fish species and several shark species (brownbanded bamboo shark, Japanese wobbegong and blacktip reef shark). From the aquarium section there’s a passage to a tropical hall with vivariums, with the ‘Everglades’ exhibit with American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) as the most eye-catching enclosure.
The zoo is part of the Leipziger Auwald, a woody park, and borders the city centre. Therefore it is very green and still has the atmosphere of a park. The zoo is criss-crossed by several natural stream, of which the main is called ‘Parthe’. The area after crossing the bridge over the ‘Parthe’ coming from the Founder’s Garden, will be developed into theme world South America in the (near) future. To be finished in 2018.
South America theme world
In anticipation of the Masterplan to materialise this section is already called South America on the map that comes with the ticket. This could be confusing to the ignorant visitor who sees on the map that he enters the South America section while most of the species he walks by are from another geographical region according to the panels at the enclosures.
In 2013 the only South American species to be found here is the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) which can be smelled from quite a distance because of the distinct odour the animal spreads while marking its territory. The shy maned wolf natural habitat are the grasslands of South America where it hunts alone, unlike many other large canids. Although its enclosure resembles the natural open habitat, it provides not many hideouts for the maned wolf, which is generally a shy animal that flees when alarmed.
But like the Founder’s Garden this south american area to-be-developed comprises species from different biogeographical regions – at the moment quite a few Asian species, such as the red panda, Amur leopard, snow leopard and Przewalski horse. The horses (five adults and four foals) are kept in a moated paddock close to the children’s zoo.
The red panda enclosure is situated at one of two points of access for the future South America section. It is a circular walled area with much vegetation and two rather large trees. Across from these cuddly looking small predators with their red fur and taste for bamboo two feline Asian predators are housed. Both the Amur leopards are on display in an old-fashioned cage-like construction. A few of these cages are connected to provide a larger environment. Each cage is about 4 metres high with a surface of about 35 square metres. Elevated posts are available on tree trunks, and the leopards can shelter in their nigh quarters. Fortunately, improvement and relocation is foreseen in the Masterplan (‘Zoo der Zukunft’). The neighbours, the two snow leopards, have similar enclosures at their disposal as the Amur leopards. But the snow leopards are very good mates and therefore their enclosures are interconnected. The male comes from Zoo Krefeld, and the female from Wildpark Lüneburgerheide.
Along the outer rim of the premises at this side of the Zoo, there’s a row of old-fashioned aviaries with indigenous owls and an enclosure with roe deer.
Further to the variety of species already mentioned I discover in this area the Reeves’s muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) from Asia and Dall’s sheep (Ovis dalli) from North America.
The panels at the enclosures are modern and give good up-to-standard information about the species, including graphics of their original habitat and the IUCN Red List status.
Asia theme world
When walking from the Asian species in the future South America theme world to the entrance of the Asia theme world you’ll find two identical aviaries left and right of this entrance. One with: yellow-billed stork, Waldrapp ibis,griffon vulture, king vulture; while the other one – a walk-through aviary — houses: black-crowned night heron, Indian pond heron, glossy ibis, white-winged wood duck, black-headed ibis, wooly-necked stork.
The herd of five Asian elephants is kept in a large segmented enclosure and have a pool close to the visitor’s terrace. There’s a variety of substrate materials available, such as sand, grass and concrete, while the trees are protected by walls of rocks. It is like an elephant palace, and even the indoor enclosure and pool are large. A very special feature is the tunnel with viewing windows that allow the visitor to see the elephants under water during their bath.
(Source: Zoo Leipzig YouTube channel)
After my visit to the elephants it is time for a nice cool beverage at the Teich Pond café. It has a nice terrace with good views at the pelicans, and the Anoa as well, because their paddock borders the pelican pond.
After being revitalised I move on to the enclosure of the Amur tiger, the Tiger Taiga. This is a multilevel, more or less circular area enclosed by a rock face wall. The amphitheatre has a grand pool on the foreground close to the viewing window. At the other side of the pool there’s a high level platform for the tigers to do what all cat species do most of the time: observe and sleep.
Next door the new Amur leopard exhibit is being built as part of the Masterplan.
And then it’s time to visit Leipzig Zoo’s renowned asset that opened to the public on 1 July 2011, Gondwanaland.
is impressive, it is a zoo in a zoo. It is an in the north-western corner of the premises that encompasses a South America, Africa and Asia section. The sheer size of the hall allows for a very large self-service Asian style restaurant to be part of it. The restaurant provides many organic products to make the public aware of the necessity to alter their consumption pattern and reduce their ecological footprint – at least that is what I want to believe the Zoo is trying to achieve here.
The biodiversity of Gondwanaland can be observed from different angles. From the jungle paths you can peer through ferns and palms to see the animals, while from the treetops path you can enjoy a panoramic view of the lush green canopy. The small boat tour provides some insight in Planet Earth’s evolution, but the views on the rainforest from the water surface I think are more interesting.
South America section
Although the common squirrel monkeys are great to watch doing their business on their own islands (see the ) and the ocelot has a gorgeous multilevel jungle-like enclosure, I think the highlight here is the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) exhibit. The otters have a giant pool at their disposal which they clearly enjoy. It represents a riparian zone in the South American jungle with on the river bank lush vegetation occupied by white-faced saki and silvery marmoset. In addition the monkeys have retreats in the rock face wall. A very special feature at this exhibit is the aquarium with fish and on both sides window panes that allow you to see the otters in their tank via the aquarium – a see-through aquarium so to speak.
The Africa section is smaller than the other sections and therefore comprises fewer species. Nevertheless two interesting mixed-species exhibits have been created with owl-faced monkeys together with Kirk’s dikdik, and pygmy hippos together with Diana monkeys. You don’t see that often in zoos, but in their natural habitat these tree– and ground-dwelling species live together as well.
Like everywhere in Gondwanaland the vegetation is lush in the Asia section. The fishing cat is housed in a not-so-very-big enclosure that has got a wire mesh roof at a height of about 1.5 metres and water to splash around near the visitor viewing window. The Malayan tapir in their spacious enclosure bordering the river have produced offspring on 9 February 2013. The multi-level pools in the small-clawed otter exhibit provide an interesting environment for the otters, of which I see only one during my visit. I expect there to be more of these playful rascals at Leipzig Zoo, as they live in social groups in the wild. Komodo dragons can be seen at two places. One small rather barren enclosure near the entrance of Gondwanaland and another one along the Asian trail, but this one is large and enriched with a pool and shrubs.
From Gondwanaland I walk straight to the large non-human primate exhibit located at the north-eastern corner of the grounds.
Pongoland was opened to the public in April 2001, and at the time the largest ape enclosure of its kind in the world. The facilities comprises chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans, in other words all the great apes except humans. Pongoland houses the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center where researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig conducts research. They study the behaviour, perception and communication of apes.
There are two groups of chimpanzees. A group of 16 specimens of West African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), of which 9 come from the Dutch research institute (REPGO) in Rijswijk. And a smaller group of 6 specimens, of which 4 originates from the REPGO institute. The troop of western lowland gorillas is the smallest of the social communities at Pongoland. It consists of four individuals with the latest offspring born in Leipzig in 2009. The bonobo troop is considerably larger with 10 individuals and it contributed to the global captive population on 18 April 2013 with their latest newborn, a female. The orangutan species at Pongoland are of Sumatran origin (Pongo abelli) and form a troop of 10 individuals as well.
Indoors, the apes don’t have much natural vegetation at their disposal, although plants are used for decoration, mainly to give the visitors still a sense of a natural environment with all the artificial enrichment in the exhibits I presume. It is quite different from the outside enclosures which are not only large but have plenty of natural vegetation as well, including large trees and grassy undulating meadows, besides artificial enrichment features. All the outdoor exhibits are surrounded by water-filled moats, which have electrical wire installed just above the surface in case one of the apes goes for the unimaginable escape route via the water. The rear wall of the outer enclosures is an artificial rock face wall that also is the construction wall of the Pongoland building.
Indoors in Pongoland birds are enjoying a spacious area where they can freely fly about, such as western bluebill, warbled starling and red-and-yellow barbet.
Africa theme world
The okapi forest is the first African species enclosure I arrive at when I’ve left Pongoland’s indoor facilities following the route coming from the Asian elephants. Although there’s also an odd section with some Asian species here as well. At the Asian forest enclosures at this corner farthest away from the entrance there are two species of crane (Grus japonensis and Grus vipio) housed together with musk deer. Furthermore, they keep Eld’s deer (Rucervus eldii) too, a deer species I have never seen in any other zoo I visited yet. The global Eld’s Deer population is Endangered according the IUCN Red List and is currently very localised to small areas within the species’ former range in South and South-east Asia.
The okapi share the exhibit with red forest duiker (Cephalophus natalensis). Much attention is paid to particularities, also along the footpath. With on my left the water-filled moats of the outdoor orangutan and chimp enclosures, and on my right the okapi forest, these characteristics give me the impression to be exploring the jungle on my own – lucky for me it is not a busy day at the Zoo .
Leipzig Zoo supports the Okapi Conservation Project of Organisation Gilman International Conservation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Moving on from there the beautiful savannah area appears. A mixed-species exhibit with African crowned crane, a herd of seven Rothschild’s giraffes (including three young adolescents), Grevy’s zebra, southern ostrich, scimitar-horned oryx, Thomson gazelle, Nile lechwe, Marabu stork and lesser flamingo. Actually, this is the first real mixed-species exhibit with more than two species that I discover, and it is an impressive one. At the Kiwari lodge – an African-style restaurant – you have a great view on the savannah plain which is an elongated but broad grassy paddock. When you forget about the park in the background you could imagine yourself to be sitting at a real lodge on the borders of a savannah area in Africa.
Across from the big Kiwari savannah there’s a smaller rather secluded area with Angola lions (Panthera leo bleyenberghi). The two lions, originally from Lisbon Zoo, occupy an enclosure with undulating grounds, grass, a shelter and a high level platform. It is kind of shaped like an amphitheatre with on the right hand side a high rock face wall, while on the visitor’s side there are trees, bamboo shrubs and a water-filled moat. Although situated in a secluded location the lions are very exposed to the inquisitive public, because the animals can be viewed from many points around the enclosure, even in their indoor quarters. Much attention has been paid again to the Zoo’s design, for instance with drawings on the wall along the footpath close to the lions exhibit. At this part of the Zoo premises most enclosures are rather large, including the spotted hyena exhibit which contains undulating multilevel grounds with boulders and other type of enrichment, but above all a view on the Kiwari savannah.
At the border of the Asia theme world the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli) are on display in a less attractive exhibit. The male and female are kept separate in small outdoor paddocks on sandy substrate. All vegetation, trees and shrubs, are protected by boulders from the rhinos destructive capacity. The grounds are slightly sloping down towards the visitor’s side where the paddock ends at a low wall; the other side borders the pelican pond.
From the black rhinos I walk to the monkey islands where another African species can be found, the Hamadryas baboon, on an old-fashioned baboon rock. This is not part of the African theme world anymore. Actually it is not part of any theme world at all. It is situated at the crossroads where you have to decide which theme world you want to visit. The other primate species housed on the monkey islands is the lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus).
While walking back to the exit/entrance I have a quick look at the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) enclosure called sloth bear ravine. It’s a varied enclosure with a waterfall, a moat, and a rock face wall all around. The large trees are protected from the bears destructive behaviour by electrical wire. The bears have got dead trees at their disposal to climb to great heights. Adjacent there’s an enclosure where two sloth bears living together with rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta).
A former East Germany zoo that is turning itself into a modern zoo with enormous speed. Gondwanaland, the elephant enclosure, Pongoland and the Kiwari savannah are great facilities with superb features that will be appreciated by most if not all visitors. There’s more work to be done to provide all species with enclosures that meet the standards of modern zoos. But with their Masterplan ‘Zoo der Zukunft’ Leipzig Zoo management is on top of things. Therefore, I am looking forward to my next visit to Leipzig Zoo.