Saturday, August 6, 2011

Europe's Oldest Zoo: Artis, Amsterdam

We had been planning on seeing Amsterdam’s zoo, Artis, since the early stages of planning our trip. Despite recently going to BioParc in Valencia, with a full extra day to use up we had no reason to skip Artis. From the gates, you can see camels and bison living in harmony with llamas and donkeys. There is only a garden and a moat separating them from the people and it’s a very cool sight to see.

Beyond the front gate, you can tell that Artis is Europe’s oldest zoo. Like the rest of Amsterdam, it’s very brown, but it’s not just the paths and the architecture. Most of the animals still live in cages or in concrete pits. There are signs everywhere talking about extensive renovations and the plans sound very promising. The giraffe enclosure has recently been combined with the zebras and antelopes to create a much larger savannah where they can roam about together and there are plans to put the carpark underground and use the freed up space to enlarge the enclosures.

Until then, monkeys slide down the sharply angled sides of a bizarre concrete island, reminiscent of Planet of the Apes, sea lions snooze on a concrete pad and the Elephants wander a small sand pit with a few logs. A leopard, a jaguar, the lions, all live side by side in cages with concrete walls and steel mesh frontages. It’s similar to how Auckland Zoo was when I was little, but Auckland Zoo has changed drastically since then.

There are two highlights of Artis, the first being the diversity. There is a planetarium showing dome movies about outer space, an Aquarium, and a museum of old taxidermy models from the zoo’s earliest days as a developing education and research facility. There are more kinds of animals than any zoo I’ve ever been too and it’s awesome seeing Wolves and Giant Anteaters and Beavers and Racoons and Bears and huge Bison, absolutely massive, all of which we’ve never seen before. There’s a section similar to Butterfly Creek at home and a huge reptile house.

The other highlight was the number of new born animals there were. A month-old baby elephant wanders the sand pit with its Mum, not far from the baby giraffe next door. A tiny baby gorilla hangs on to its Mum and looks scarily human while a baby Margay cat, similar to a Servil, stretches up the cage to get closer to an actual human baby. A lion cub yawns and rolls over to stretch away from its Mum, just as the sea lion pup does the same in its own enclosure.

Of course the lowlight though is that they may never know the freedom other zoos offer, unless they are exchanged for breeding programs. The wild is far better than a zoo altogether but if you’re going to be born into captivity, there are better zoos to be born at.

An elephant with a star branded onto it’s back sways absent mindedly in the corner as the baby elephant runs past, and that’s the baby elephant’s ‘normal’.

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