Odense Zoo is a small city zoo with three main geographical sections, Asia, Africa and South America. The largest section is the one for African species. They clearly decided that the animal collection should be limited – in number of species and in representation of habitats. This allows for larger enclosures and creating larger groups of species to meet behavioural requirements of such species.
Immediately after the ticket booth you arrive at a small square with the zebra mangust enclosure as the eye-catcher – a rocky elevation surrounded by a dry moat and a glass fence. It is a busy area, but the mangust have the option to hide in one of the tunnels they have dug or travel to their den in the indoor enclosure when they want to get away from the inquisitive public.
The zoo is situated on both sides of the Odense river. There are three bridges connecting both parts. One of those bridges leads towards the Asia section, but just before the bridge on the river’s west bank there’s an enclosure holding emu, the Australian flightless bird or ratite. On the east bank after crossing the bridge you’ll find bactrian camel to the right and Amur tiger to the left.
The Amur tiger are kept in two separate enclosures. Both without much shelter for the animals. The enclosure with the tiger mum and three cubs born April 2015 is situated close to the river with a public foot/cycle path in between. Both enclosures contain natural vegetation. The large enclosure with the male tiger has a high level artificial boulder section in the middle. At least to me this seems artificial, but in other parts of the Zoo natural rocks can be identified. The large boulders split up this tiger exhibit in two parts which increases the variation, with on one side a large pool that flows into a stream that connects both parts of the exhibit. Although there’s plenty of natural vegetation the steel wire fence, the viewing platform and the viewing windows at the boulder section provides ample opportunity for the public to see the tigers. The observation platform, or better hut, is designed as a forester’s cabin in the Sikhote-Alin mountain range in the Primorski and Khabarovsk provinces of the Russian Far East, the natural habitat of the Amur tiger. This is part of the many interesting forms of education to be found in Odense Zoo. Adjacent to the Amur tigers one of their prey species – the reindeer – is housed (with a calf born April 2015).
From this Asian part I rush to the lions’ enclosure in the African section to see the feeding of the African lions, which once a week get half a small horse carcass. From a large viewing deck I see, together with a crowd of other visitors, the lionesses and their cubs (born in April and June 2015 respectively) have an enthusiastic first bite before returning to the leader of the pride. It is as if they have to convince him to come along and enjoy this meal. The enclosure is an open savannah-like terrain with grass, rocks, a hill and a pond below the viewing deck. The single natural tree is not protected from scratching behaviour. Besides the once-a-week carcass including intestines and hide, there seems to be other ways to enrich the lions’ captive environment.
Returning from the lions’ feeding I walk around the chimpanzee island, which is surrounded by a water-filled moat with koi carp. Plenty of artificial climbing enrichment – wooden platforms, beams, trunks, connecting ropes – are at the chimps disposal. While at the undulating ground level there’s a variety of vegetation, including grass. There are several spots around the island where the public can sit, picnic and watch the apes doing their daily business. The large waterfall is a nice feature, but more to the public than to the apes I suppose.
The signage in the Zoo consists of fancy panels with information in three languages (Danish, English and German). Although the panels provide important knowledge on the species that are exhibited, including the species’ original geographical distribution, it lacks essential information in my opinion. The panels do not provide any insight in the current conservation status of the animals – whether they endangered or not. It is common practice nowadays for zoos to include the IUCN Red List status, the worldwide accepted reference on endangered species, on the information panels. This would add considerably to the educational value of the information on the panels. Especially, when it is explained in what ways zoos contribute to species conservation, and the visitor can figure out himself how many species at the Zoo are categorised as Endangered (from Near Threatened to Extinct in the Wild, see IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™). My personal rough estimate would be that about 20 percent of the Zoo’s animal collection constitutes a group that fits into the aforementioned Red List categories.
According the information panels the Zoo takes part in only four European Endangered species Programmes (EEP) – Amur tiger, lowland tapir, golden-headed lion tamarin and common squirrel monkey. But I can hardly imagine that this rather low figure is correct for a zoo like Odense Zoo.
African Waters aviary
The enormous walk-through aviary, claimed to be the largest aviary of northern Europe, comprises many African bird species, such as greater flamingo (Phoenicoperus roseus), pink-backed pelican, Hottentot teal, cattle egret, helmeted guineafowl, hammerkop, African spoonbill and Abdim’s stork. Especially the pelicans are not afraid and obviously are used to having close encounters with human beings. Unfortunately, I see several pelicans that have been pinioned. I wonder why, because they are kept in a large aviary that provide sufficient space for free flight without the birds being able to escape. So, why are some of the pelicans mutilated? There is hardly ever a good excuse for mutilation of course, but in this case the common ‘to prevent escape’ cannot be it.
The natural vegetation, the large pond create a nice environment for both the birds and their visitors. While still in the aviary, there’s also access to a cabin where you can watch the chimpanzees in their indoor enclosure. This cabin also houses the dwarf mongoose and the king python.
Leaving the aviary I stumble upon something that might be confusing to the ignorant visitor. Though still in the African section a relatively small aviary houses scarlet macaw while the information panel reads western grey parrots. The latter indeed originates from Africa, but the macaw definitely not. The scarlet macaw’s original habitat is from Mexico to Colombia and the Amazon Basin. It turns out that the African parrots are kept in this aviary as well, but they hide out in the more secluded indoor part. It could well be that the macaws are temporarily housed in this quarters, but then this should be mentioned on the information panel, I would say.
Much attention is paid to the details of the exterior and interior design of the enclosures, to try and make the exhibits resemble the natural habitat of the species. This is to the benefit of the animals of course, but also assists the visitor in recognising the species’ geographical origin. Nevertheless, there are exceptions considering habitat resemblance. One extreme example is the indoor exhibit for the ring-tailed lemurs. Their indoors is designed to resemble a vanilla storage room. Vanilla is grown in many places including Madagascar, which is also the natural habitat of the world’s lemur species. Again, much attention is paid to the design, but I doubt if the walls with hardboard panels and the coated concrete floor is much to the liking of the lemurs. I can imagine they prefer the nice outdoor facilities – an island with natural vegetation and many enrichment features surrounded by a water-filled moat. The island is made attractive for the public to linger with two observation cabins along the moat, where they can picnic.
Next-door the Zoo keeps a large collection of Aldabra giant tortoises from the small Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, in the Indian ocean, relatively close to the East African coast north of Madagascar. These giant tortoises, one of the largest tortoises in the world, have an outdoor enclosure and an acclimatised house at their disposal.
Kiwari Wild Africa – the African section is supposed to be a journey through the different habitats of wild Africa, represented by savannah, rainforest, river, lake and island areas.
The most impressive one is the area which covers the largest part of the premises on the east bank of the river and consists of wetlands and a large savannah paddock. When touring the Zoo clock-wise this magnificent area starts at the giraffe house just across the lion enclosure. The giraffe building looks brand new and is a straightforward fit-for-purpose building. Amazing views appear when you start walking from the giraffe house via the elevated boardwalk through the wetlands. This area not only provides an excellent habitat for the Zoo’s sitatunga, Africa’s amphibious antelope that live in the wetlands of central and southern Africa, but it is a conservation area for native bird species as well. I was lucky to see and photograph a for instance, but other small bird species can be heard and seen in the wetlands’ vegetation. After the wetlands there’s a dry savannah area with sable antelope, Grevy’s zebra and ostrich. These species, including the giraffe, have access to this area via a corridor along the wetlands that connects the stables with the savannah paddock.
To continue the visit into the South America section you have to cross the river again. On the left appears a rather common mixed-species exhibit with alpaca and greater rhea, but more interesting is the absolute marvellous island for common squirrel monkeys. The island with its dense vegetation of undergrowth and huge trees provides a perfect habitat for the Zoo’s productive squirrel monkeys (recent offspring from May and June 2015). Many monkeys can be heard but not seen due to the dense vegetation. Only during the weekends the island is open to the public as a walk-through exhibit, probably under zookeeper’s supervision.
Journey through South America
Before the next section with species of South America there’s an interlude for children to interact with farm animals. From there follows a journey through South America, as the Zoo announces it, from the Amazon to the Subantarctic. It starts with a walk-through aviary with boat-billed heron, black-crowned night heron, great white egret, red ibis, hyacinth macaw, inca tern, black curassow, southern screamer, emperor tamarin and lowland tapir. Except from the tapir they all are free to go where they like, but not all of these species show themselves. The three tapirs occupy two adjacent enclosures that are old-fashioned compared to the standard the Zoo has set in the modern exhibits I have seen already.
The South America journey continues indoors in the tropical rainforest house – a small but nevertheless spacious setup with a warm and moist atmosphere. Again a walk-through exhibit with this time golden-headed lion tamarin, white-faced saki, pygmy marmoset and two-toed sloth roaming free. And probably the Zoo’s most well-known and extraordinary species can be seen here in the large tank, the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus). Odense Zoo was the first Scandinavian zoo to breed these manatees with the first calf born 13 September 2003. In addition to the manatees the tank comprises fish species such as arapaima, pearl cichlid, dorada, pacu and red-tailed catfish.
Finally, you arrive in the very south of the Americas, the Subantarctic, the region north of the Antarctic with for instance Tierra del Fuego. This region is represented by three penguin species – rockhopper, king and gentoo penguin. They are housed in an acclimatised environment that even got artificial snow as a substrate. To breed these penguins the light scheme is adjusted to the seasons in their original habitat.
After the South America journey experience and walking to the South America House you pass the harbour seals and the California sea lion in their respective pool, that might well be the oldest exhibits of the Zoo and are not very attractively designed. For some odd reason you can also find brown-necked wallaby here, which puzzles me. Is this just to show another species from the Australian continent (the other one being the emu near the bridge to the Asia section) and have representations from this continent at the premises? As they have been making clearcut decisions about showing a low number of species on the 8 hectare compound, which is to be applauded, these Australian species are outliers and do not really make a worthwhile contribution to the Zoo’s animal collection, in my humble opinion.
At the South America House the resident species are the lowland tapir and the emperor tamarin, for which the house is just their nightly quarters, while they have access to a large outdoor area in the adjacent SA walk-through aviary. Across the SA House a typical species from the Americas that you see in many zoos nowadays, the coati, is present. In this case it is the white-nosed subspecies (Nasua narica).
Making my way to the exit I arrive at another part with Asian species. First, a rather disappointing enclosure for pigtail macaques (Macaca nemestrina) appears. This species live in large social groups in the wild and a rough estimate indicates that the Zoo’s group consists of about 25 individuals, excluding the many youngsters born in March this year. But the disappointment regards the enclosure design, because that absolutely doesn’t reflect the species’ original habitat – tropical rainforest. Both the outdoor and indoor exhibit shows a total lack of vegetation and just have bamboo trunks and ropes for behavioural enrichment purposes. The red pandas and the Chinese muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) in the adjacent enclosure have a more diverse environment at their disposal, with dense vegetation and several large trees and shelters.
Odense Zoo is a beautifully situated zoological garden with a small but balanced animal collection. Less attention is paid to botanical values and education, which you see to be integrated in the total package modern zoos deliver nowadays. But even the wetlands alone are worth a visit to Odense Zoo. And you don’t have to go thirsty or hungry, because it is one of the zoos I visited with the highest café/restaurant to exhibit ratio.