Hanoi Zoo is founded on 6 August 1976 by the Hanoi People’s Committee. The Zoo is run by the Hanoi Zoological Gardens institution which is state owned and part of the Transportation and Urban Public Works Service of Hanoi city government. The Zoological Gardens institution takes care of several city gardens including Thu Le park where the Zoo is located.
Previously known as Bachthao Gardens, the name was changed when the zoological collection was relocated to Thu Le Park in 1976. The current site covers an area of 24 hectares, including the 6 ha lake. The lake is used for leisure activities such as pedal boats, while the park features several children playgrounds as well.
Due to the Voi Phuc (kneeling elephants) temple in the western part of the grounds Hanoi Zoo is regarded by some a pilgrim’s destination. This temple is associated with the Ling Lang legend (a famous national Vietnamese legend), because it is allegedly built to worship Saint Ling Lang who defeated the Chinese enemy. Therefore Hanoi Zoo is also a Historic Heritage site.
When the animal collections was introduced in Thu Le Park it comprised around 300 specimens of just 35 species. Nowadays (2016) the collection has expanded to roughly 650 specimens of over 90 different species. In addition to expanding the zoological collection the Zoo has worked together with Hanoi city government to further develop the grounds and facilities over the years. Step by step they improved the enclosures to increase the welfare of the animals kept captive. Their ultimate goal was to get the facilities as well as the expertise of the people working in the Zoo up to modern standards, and bring it on par with other zoos worldwide. This also made them rethink about the animal collection, because conservation of endangered species became paramount.
This was reflected in the mission that was adopted, which included objectives that are common for every modern self-respecting zoo, such as (a) the conservation and breeding of rare and endangered species, both native and non-native; (b) provision of an environment where researchers can conduct studies; © education of the visitors about animals and conservation; and (d) the design and construction of modern enclosures. Odd as it may seem for western perspectives they also set a goal for themselves to reproduce some domestic animals and to sell ornamental plants. And of course a visit to Hanoi Zoo had to be a relaxed outing. So, the conservation and protection of wildlife and the provision of a beautiful zoological garden for the people to enjoy were considered the most important targets.
The latter, therefore, made entertainment an important issue. For people used to zoos in Europe and North America this kind of ‘merry-go-round-entertainment’ in zoos is totally out of character for modern western zoos. However, this is common practice in Asian zoos, with most of the time the entertainment being overwhelmingly present, sound included. In Hanoi they even had an animal circus on the premises, which of course is unacceptable from the animal’s point of view as it impairs the animal’s welfare. So, they had to rethink the issue of entertainment as well. Especially the animal circus, because this clearly introduced animal welfare problems in the Hanoi Zoo establishment, while their intention was to do the right thing for these animals — at least based on their mission statement. Fortunately, Hanoi Zoo took their mission serious and quietly shut down the animal circus in 2016. Not the least due to the agreement the Zoo signed with Animals Asia, an animal rights organisation, in 2014.
As the Zoo has been a member of SEAZA (South East Asian Zoo Association) since 1993, more and more emphasis was placed over time on conservation of endangered species ex-situ as well as in-situ. Quite a few species of the Zoo’s animal collection are listed in the Red Data Book for Vietnam, including the Indochinese tiger, clouded leopard, Asian golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), Owston’s palm civet, Vietnamese pheasant, Crested Argus (Rheinardia ocellata) and the Asian Elephant. Hanoi Zoo is involved in several captive-breeding programmes of these Red Data Book species, but for example also for the Tam Dao newt, which is only found in a few places in Vietnam and has become one of the most endangered species of the world. Many of those species have been bred successfully in Hanoi. As is the Edwards’s pheasant, for which the Zoo established a long-time relationship with the World Pheasant Association and plays a significant role in its breeding programme.
Hanoi Zoo teamed up with several other non-governmental organisations including zoos to further improve the living conditions of the animals, the contribution to breeding programmes and its operational activities in general. As a result the Zoo’s elephants were finally free to roam their enclosure in 2015, after years of being chained. In addition to assisting the unchaining of elephants, Animals Asia and its partners have also been informing zoo carers about the benefits of enrichment for their animals to help provide them with daily stimulation, and working with zoo staff to provide new enclosure furnishings. This included climbing platforms for bears and tigers that have helped reduce fighting. Beyond that the clouded leopards now have multiple structures, levels and pathways. Meanwhile the macaques have been given bamboo perches, hammocks, swings and puzzle feeders to keep minds and bodies active.
As creating a research environment was part of their mission statement, the Zoo has set up several projects to study animal behaviour, supporting the design of better enrichment features, as shown in the video, and animal diets. Other research projects aim at improved control of contagious diseases, together with the Veterinary faculty of the Hanoi university.
The Zoo is important in the governmental fight against illegal trade of endangered animals by providing shelter and care of confiscated animals.
Educational programmes to provide wildlife information and create awareness among the general public about the importance of wildlife conservation are under development . This includes designing new information panels at enclosures, while they envisage to start with lectures for school groups.
Apparently there are plans for building a new zoo in Hanoi, the Me Tri-Trung Van Animal Park. This zoo should show the difference between in-situ and ex-situ living conditions of animals, in other words it should represent a situation of how animals live in the wild. Although the original idea was to open the new wildlife park in 2010, the plans haven’t materialised yet, in 2018.
(Source: Hanoi Zoo website; Animals Asia website, Hanoi Zoo closes its animal circus, 17.02.2016; Travelfish website, Vietnam forum, accessed 22.12.2018)