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Hix
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  #1
The Kuwait Zoo
Old 26-03-2009

A few weeks ago (on a Saturday) I had the opportunity to visit the Kuwait Zoo. I had tried the Sunday previously, but found the zoo to be closed. Apparently, it’s closed every Sunday. A guy out the front of the entrance told me it was closed for ‘maintenance’. I asked if they were renovating exhibits or building new ones, and he replied “Yes. They are building a cage. And they clean cages.” That sounded ominous (to me anyway – I’m used to exhibits being cleaned every day, not just once a week). Upon further questioning I discovered this man was a landscaper, and had finished landscaping for the day. I asked if he was landscaping the grounds, or a new exhibit, and he just mumbled “landscaping” again, then got into a car that had arrived and left. He probably digs ditches, I thought. There appeared to be nothing else to do, so I took a picture of the sign above the entrance and left aswell.

Zoo Entrance

I had imagined the zoo would be one of two things – old and victorianesque, or new and really good. During the week I did an internet search and found some pictures that suggested it would be, unfortunately, the former.

I knew the Iraqis had killed and eaten a lot of the animals and damaged exhibits when they invaded in 1990. Animals they hadn’t killed they had used for target practice, and reports of wounded and injured animals, limping and bleeding, being left to slowly die of starvation or their injuries made news around the world. The few remaining zookeepers had scrounged to find food for the animals, as supplies were cut off and no food was arriving in Kuwait. After the invaders had been repelled and Kuwait’s Zoo was being rebuilt, I would have thought the government would have spent lots of money fixing up the zoo – after all, Kuwait is an extremely wealthy nation and you would think that the zoo exhibits would be plush, lavish and opulent. Especially when you consider the Kuwaiti Government wants to encourage tourism to their country. Plush, lavish and opulent? Wishful thinking on my behalf.

Before I continue I should point out a couple of things: firstly, apart from the ticket seller at the entrance, I saw no-one else in the zoo resembling a staff member or keeper so I was unable to ask any questions I may have had; secondly, I was with four friends (non- animal/zoo people) and this affected the relative freedom I have to stay as long as I want at some enclosures or to ignore others completely. Although there were only a few hundred people in the zoo we were the only Westerners and getting separated or wandering off by yourself was something we had to avoid. As a result of this, I may be a little vague on some details.

Also, I’ve never been to this zoo before and may not ever have the opportunity to visit again. And, until now, the Kuwait Zoo has not been listed on ZooChat. So the following review is going to be a fairly lengthy one, but not exhaustive (best to get a pillow now). It will, however, cover most of what I saw. I have also expressed some opinions but tried to remain as objective as possible, although that’s a little hard in some cases.

Admission to the zoo is very cheap – 500 fils (about AUD$2.50, USD$1.75). There are two ticket boxes, one for men and one for women. There was no-one in the Women’s box, but the two girls in our group had no trouble getting tickets from the male box. Next to the ticket box is a sign detailing what is not permitted in the zoo, and this list is also detailed (with pictures) on the back of the ticket.

Entrance Ticket

Entrance sign - prohibited items

While I don’t recall seeing balls or bicycles of any size, people had plenty of food and didn’t hesitate to share it with the animals – no matter how inappropriate the food may have been. More pleasing, however, was the fact that I never saw any of the “superiority displays” that some European and Asian cultures have, where visitors spit at animals, poke them with sticks or otherwise torment them.

There is no guidebook, or even a map handout. Only a couple of large maps mounted around the zoo.

Map of the Zoo

Three other points I should mention:

1. Virtually all enclosures have a substrate of sand (the entire country is essentially built on sand). Those that don’t have sand have either concrete or tile. Some actually have some grass. Many exhibits have trees and/or shrubs, and these species are generally those adapted to growing in sand.

2. Throughout the zoo, almost every cage or fence has a chainlink mesh on it. On most of them the mesh was of a smaller size than you normally see (about half the size) and painted green. I found this mesh to be a little annoying because it is impossible to stick a DSLR camera lens through it and being green it tends to show up more in photos than black mesh does. As a result, some photos are not the best as the wire is visible.

3. A lot of the exhibits had no label. And some exhibits were just empty.

The first exhibit we came to was a bank of aviaries built in the old wooden style (i.e. wooden frame and wooden shelter at the back). The wood was very old, and in some places broken and rotted right through. Although there were about twenty individual aviaries in this bank, they all had pretty much the same things – a few varieties of domestic pigeon, some domestic chickens, ringneck pheasants and some peafowl. The peafowl had the last three aviaries, one of the few zoos I’ve seen that actually put peafowl in a cage (as opposed to having them free-ranging). The first aviary had pigeons, the next had chooks, then pheasants, then pigeons, chook, pheasants etc. Some had chooks and pigeons together. One aviary had Ringneck Parrots (and pheasants and pigeons). Only one aviary had a label, it said Chukar Partridge but all I could see in that aviary was ringneck pheasants. And every aviary appeared overcrowded.

Bank of Aviaries

Pigeon

Ringneck Parrot Aviary

Peafowl

The next enclosure was also overcrowded – domestic goats. Normally I would have ignored this enclosure, but the girls in my group went ga-ga when they saw some kids that enjoyed getting a scratch behind the ears.

Goats

Next door in a very sandy enclosure were some large African Spur-thighed Tortoises. Not an overly exciting exhibit, it was just a giant sandpit with some odd sculpture in the middle looking like it may have once been a fountain. There was a cave shelter under this structure so the tortoises could escape the sun if need be. Behind the tortoise’s exhibit were a dromedary, and a pony of some description. Judging by the fencing I think they may have given camel and/or pony rides at some stage.

African Spurthigh Tortoise

The next exhibit consisted of two reasonable-sized waterfowl ponds with a bridge between the ponds for viewing. I was not impressed - the water looked pretty murky, there were labels for several species of goose and duck that clearly weren’t in the exhibits, and a couple of species were present that weren’t labelled (like Canada Goose and White Pelican).

Waterfowl Pond

White Pelican

A lone Nile Crocodile, about 3 metres long, resided in one of the few grassed exhibits in the zoo. However, his pool – a series of three (?) interconnected tiled pools – were all way too shallow. I estimate the maximum depth to be no more than 0.5 metre.

Nile Crocodile

Nile Crocodile enclosure

Then we came across some really bad enclosures – for primates. The first was for Vervet Monkeys and next door were some Patas Monkeys. These were smallish, wire-fronted concrete-floored, brick-walled bunkers. I haven’t seen primate cages like that for many years. Quite depressing, but worse was yet to come.

Vervet Monkey cage

Not far away were two very large circular enclosures housing Hamadryas baboons. Concrete floors, and the back half of each enclosure consisted of a concrete ‘mountain’ to climb on. There seemed to be a connecting passageway between the mountains in the two enclosures, so the animals may have had access to both cages (but I don’t know that for sure). Some of the males had blue colouring on their heads, looked like paint. Although not overcrowded, still too many individuals. I’m guessing about 40 or more and, although this is a social species, it would be hard for an animal to escape being picked on by others. Some old bites were visible. Many infants and babies. In one of the cages was a long piece of wire the juveniles were playing with. There didn’t appear to be a night house, or somewhere to separate the animals, unless they were all moved into one or other enclosure. If there were holding cages in the ‘mountains’, then they would have been very, very cramped.

Hamadryas Baboon cage

Hamadryas cage interior

Hamadryas Baboons

I thought this was pretty bad, but I there was still worse primate cages to come. More wire fronted concrete boxes for white-handed gibbon and chimpanzee, and even smaller tiled bunkers for Blue Guenon, Long-tailed Macaque, Bonnet Monkey and Olive Baboon.

Gibbon Cage

Chimpanzee Cage

Blue Monkey cage

Bonnet Monkey cage

Crab-eating Macaque cage

Olive Baboon cage

Ringtailed lemurs, while having mostly a concrete backed cage, had the greenest, lushest grass I’ve seen anywhere in Kuwait! Not a great exhibit, but certainly better than the others.

Ring-tailed Lemur Cage

Nearby to Hamadryas Baboons was a circular pit-type enclosure with a rather odd looking concrete structure in the centre and no label. It looked like it might have suited meerkats, mongooses or coatis, but in a cave under the structure I could see two Crested Porcupines sleeping.
Porcupine enclosure
There is a small Reptile House at the zoo. In an outdoor enclosure were a couple of dozen Greek Tortoises, many of which were voraciously feeding on some food recently provided to them. Those not eating seemed intent on either mating or avoiding being mated. Lots of mounting and shell butting.

Greek Tortoises

Greek Tortoises

Inside the Reptile House was one large glass-fronted tank with a large python inside (not sure what species but I think it was a Burmese mutation). The label said Boa Constrictor, but it definitely wasn’t a boa. The other cages were all small glass-fronted affairs, generally too small for the occupant (for display and educational purposes, anyway). Species included the Diadem Snake, Black Cobra, Hissing Sand Snake, Rat Snake (Kuwaiti version, not the N.American snake of the same name), Sand Viper, Desert Horned Viper, Ball Python (incorrectly labelled as Angolan Python) and a young Green Iguana. Apart from the Ball, Burm, Iguana and Greek Tortoises, the remainder of the reptiles are native to Kuwait.

Sand Viper

Hissing Sand Snake tank

Green Iguana tank

Desert Horned Viper

Diadem Snake

Ball Python enclosure

Black Desert Cobra

Despite most animal enclosures being small, we came upon three rather large enclosures not far from the Reptiles. All three enclosures sloped down toward the public viewing, and had night dens in a building at the back. Although sand, there were small trees and shrubs growing in the enclosures. The first exhibit appeared empty, and there was no label. The second had a pack of European Grey Wolves, I saw at least five. Although not enormous, this enclosure was certainly an adequate size for a small pack. The third enclosure had no label and appeared empty. I was about to leave when a Striped Hyena came out of the night den and went for a lope around the enclosure. Not a stereotyped path, it seemed to be looking around to see if there was anything interesting in the enclosure.

Wolf Enclosure

European Gray Wolves

Striped Hyena enclosure

Striped Hyena

Not far away were some more dog enclosures, and these were the complete opposite of therelative luxury the wolves had. A pair of mangy dingos were in a small octagonal exhibit about four metres in diameter, with a den at the back that looked about a quarter the size of the display cage. Very sad. Next door in identical accommodation was a Golden Jackal, running around both display and den on a stereotyped path that went around the perimeter of the exhibit, through a large hole in the wall to the den and back out through the door to start again. Very, very sad.

Dog cages

Dingo cage

Golden Jackal cage

Further up the road were some cat enclosures – these at least were in decent-sized sandy enclosures, but not quite as large as the wolf/hyena exhibits. The first I came to had a pair of cheetah that were quite active. Most cheetah I’ve seen in zoos are either sleeping, or walking from one resting spot to another. This pair were running around the enclosure, playing with each other, jumping on the wall near the public, flopping down for a quick rest before getting up to play again.

Next to the cheetahs was a tiger enclosure with a shallow pool, some grass but no trees or shrubs. There was a lion enclosure the size of the cheetah and tiger cage combined. There was also a relatively small enclosure labelled ‘leopard’, but I didn’t see the occupant. The cage had a log propped up on another log for climbing, but this would have only got the leopard about a metre off the ground.

Cheetahs

Cheetah enclosure

Tiger exhibit

Lion enclosure

Leopard cage

Cheetahs can always use a bigger enclosure, but this size was adequate for the pair on display (especially when you consider some of the other exhibits in this zoo). The tiger enclosure, however, was a bit small and barren (tigers are forest dwellers). The lion enclosure I’m not too sure about – it was in full sun and a bit stark, but did have some shrubs to provide shade, and I would have preferred to see them on grass and not sand. I only saw a single lioness but there could have been more in the dens. The size would have been adequate for three or four lions. The leopard enclosure would have been OK if there were lots of climbing structures so the animal could utilise the vertical space.

Nearby was a small enclosure for raccoons (but they weren’t visible).

Next to the lions was a large enclosure for Common Hippos. A sandy land area and a large deep pool at the front of the exhibit with underwater viewing. There were two hippos in the water, I could tell by the bodies poking through the surface of the water. Unfortunately the water was so green you couldn’t see anything through the windows unless the hippos were within a foot of the glass. And the glass looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while either. Defeats the whole purpose of having underwater viewing.

Hippo underwater viewing

Another smaller enclosure next to it also had a hippo. This enclosure was half land, half pond. Again, the way hippos were displayed 40 years ago.

Hippo enclosure #2

Apart from these small disappointments, the other ungulate enclosures were mostly fairly spacious and comparable in size to what most city zoos would provide for hoofstock. Like most of the enclosures, they were all sand substrate, so I’m not too sure how that would affect hooves, but I didn’t see anything that was obviously weird or overgrown (admittedly, I didn’t look at hooves, but everything I saw moving seemed to move without impediment). Some enclosures had a tree or two providing shade but, with all the sand and the hot sun, they still looked Spartan. On display were Axis Deer, Plains Zebra, Lesser Kudu, Beisa Oryx, Arabian Oryx, Dorcas Gazelle, Wildebeest, Nilgai, Reticulated Giraffe, Sitatunga, Impala and Blackbuck. There was a decent-sized grassed enclosure for Reeve’s Muntjac (I only saw one) and another similar-sized grassed exhibit for Korean Water Deer (but I didn’t see any). While the size of these enclosures were acceptable, the lack of vegetation was very disappointing. So was the lack of water for the Sitatunga despite having a pool in the enclosure.

Deer yard

Wildebeest yard

Dorcas Gazelles

Beisa Oryx enclosure

Arabian Oryx

Arabian Oryx enclosure

Giraffe enclosure

Reticulated Giraffe and Blackbuck

Lesser Kudu yard

Sitatunga Yard

Reeves Muntjac yard

Nilgai

Impala

There were also a couple of smaller enclosures, one for Mouflon (or so the label said), the other for Barbary Sheep (with no label). These enclosures had a small climbing structure in the middle of each. Despite being social species, they were too crowded for my liking. Had it been my zoo I would have gotten rid of the Mouflon, knocked down the common fence and given the Barbary Sheep both enclosures, then built them something decent to climb on.

Mouflon exhibit

Barbary Sheep enclosure

Despite all these ungulate exhibits being acceptable, the elephant enclosure was not.

There were two enclosures, but I only saw elephants in one. Two elephants, one on display and the other locked out the back. Both Africans. Judging by the size, and the fact the tusks were just starting to come through, I’m guessing they were about five years old, maybe a bit more. The exhibit area was not big, concrete walls, solid steel pipes at the front, and a pool that had no water in it. Although the elephant could move around the exhibit, it was still way too small. At least the animals weren’t standing on concrete.

Elephant and enclosure

There was a large construction area in the middle of the zoo consisting of a pit with sand at the bottom and the remains of three ‘islands’ of sand in the middle. The walls of the pit were concrete and led to a large empty building. After looking at this for a time I realized it was probably once a series of moated monkey islands. I later noticed the zoo map had a picture of chimps where the empty building was, so I suppose that confirms my guess (and the chimps are now on display in an awful little Victorian cage).

Empty exhibit undergoing renovation

There was also another Victorian style round cage that I had seen at a distance but never actually got to see up close. It appeared to have a bear inside, judging by the size of the silhouette it had to be a brown bear. The one bear enclosure I did see was for Asiatic Black Bear (S.thibetanus). Although I didn’t see the occupant because it was in its den, the enclosure was another one of the small Victorian concrete monstrosities.

Himalayan Black Bear cage

The birds at the Zoo seemed to fare as well as the mammals did, with good and bad exhibits. Ostrich and emu were kept in relatively large sandy enclosures similar to the ungulates and the Common Crane shared an exhibit with some deer. The ostriches (sponsored by the Naif Chicken Company – the Kuwaiti equivalent of KFC) had laid eggs, and the emus had chicks. A sign in the zoo pointed to rheas, but I never saw any.

Ostriches

Ostrich eggs

Emu yard

Emu Chicks

Some older bird aviaries were rather crappy, housing Goffin’s and White Cockatoos, African Gray Parrots, Senegal parrots, Cockatiels, Red Lories, Plumhead Parrots, Patagonian Conures, Blue-and-Gold Macaw, Sunday Conures, Amazon and Alexandrine Parrots. While some were large enclosures, they were old and need rebuilding. Others were like backyard aviaries.

White Cockatoo cage

Parrot Aviaries

Macaw Aviary

Conversely, there was a mixed aviary (with plenty of greenery and a small pond) housing Red-breasted Geese, Magpie (European variety, not Australian), some pigeons, swamphens and – Indian Mynahs.

Interior of Aviary

Magpie

Red-breasted Geese

Indian Mynah

And there were two enormous flight aviaries. The first had flamingos, houbara bustard and a dozen smaller species of birds. The second housed Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Steppe Eagle and Marabou Storks, as well as some smaller birds like pigeons and swamphens. Both were grassed and with large trees, the flamingo aviary with lots of shrubs too.

Aviary

Houbara Bustard

Flamingos

White-eared Bulbul

Raptor Aviary

Griffon Vultures

Black Vulture

Interior of Raptor Aviary

Steppe Eagle

I remember commenting to one of my companions that I thought it risky putting smaller birds in with vultures and the like, but considering the large trees and the agility of the smaller birds in relation to large vultures I guessed they must have established some sort of balance. There were lots of smaller birds in the aviary. Five minutes later I saw one of the Marabous catch a dove in it’s beak, and while it was trying to manipulate it the dove escaped and flew (rather badly) up into a tree before falling down into the pond where it sat floating on the water like a seagull. The Marabous stalked around the pond eyeing the dove, who just floated there looking very undove-like on the water, and just out of reach of their enormous beaks. When one of the storks eventually stepped into the water the dove immediately flew away, without any trouble, back up into a tree where it stayed. The Storks then went back to the Black Vulture to try and steal some of his Twisties that some member of the public (obviously well-versed in raptor diet and nutrition) had shared with him.

Marabou eyeing off a meal

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, there you have it. I’ve tried to be objective and give a fair assessment of what I saw, but as I indicated at the start of this review, it’s hard to remain objective when what you see is so shocking. Especially when compared to the standards I’m used to seeing in a zoo.

Overall, the exhibit quality of the Kuwait Zoo is quite poor by world standards, and some enclosures are atrocious. In fairness though, the zoo and its staff probably are unaware of zoos in the Western world and the standards of keeping (and may not care). We need to remember this is a very different culture - I was reminded of that when I visited the toilets.

Public Toilet (male)

If I had control of this zoo, the first thing I’d do is demolish the bad exhibits (primates, dogs, elephants, bears) and build new ones. Then start on the aviaries, the cats, and the ungulates. Lots and lots of mulch, plus soil if necessary.

Anyway, this is just my opinion. What would be REALLY good would be for someone else to visit the zoo and give their opinion, so people unable to visit Kuwait can get different viewpoints and are not forced to accept just my opinion.



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  #2
Old 27-03-2009

Well done Hix,

Definatley do-not need to go to Kuwait !!!
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  #3
Old 27-03-2009

Thank you very much for this highly interesting review. Some very troubling observations there. I think the dogs and elephant enclosures were the most sad. And that leopard cage without real climbing possibilities... well, the list could go on.

All this in one of the richest countries in the world - what a shame...
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  #4
Old 27-03-2009

Gloriously informative review, and definitely a MASSIVE listing of exhibits and impressions. Thanks for taking the time to post a comprehensive review of what represents a zoo that many of us here on ZooChat will never visit. Judging from the ****** enclosures then perhaps that is a bonus!
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  #5
Old 28-03-2009

After Saddam and his army did an excellent job at extinguishing Kuwayt and the zoo, and given the affluence and opulence in Kuwayt City ... it is all the more disappointing that the new zoo is anything but a showcase for sustainable development and or species and/or biodiversity conservation.

I find the zoo unimaginative, drab, dour and badly re-designed both from an animal husbandry/enclosure design perspective as well as a zoo visitor/ conservation message perspective. Truly sadly disappointing.
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  #6
Old 25-10-2009

Thanks. An interesting report. One wonders how many Kuwait Zoos there ever were? The first one I visited was back in 1955. There was an adjoining large elephant atable too, but separate from the zoo. Both of these were no longer in existence by the mid sixties (though there were private collections I visited). In the seventies I worked for a time with the ex director of then existing Kuwait Zoo. This must have been the one which Saddam hit.
There was an excellent article I read in AKF about a keeper in the Kuwait zoo who risked life and limb to feed and give attention to the animals during the Iraqi occupation. He was given an award by the American Zoo Keeper Association.
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  #7
Old 03-09-2010

Dear Peter..
You write A nice article about kuwait zoo
zoonewsdigest.blogspot.com/2009/11/sorry-kuwait-zoo.html..
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  #8
Old 27-09-2010

This just makes me so sick to my stomach. The conditions are deplorable. Poor creatures. Good reporting, documentary.
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  #9
Old 01-10-2010

Thank you for that review, very informative and interesting.

I recently read a book about the effort to save the zoo in Baghdad and it often referred to the situation in Kuwait. In fact the author, Lawrence Anthony, had a couple of staff from Kuwait Zoo with him on his trip.

I was both apalled and moved to tears at various times - looters and black marketeers at one end and ordinary American soldiers offering their own food rations to feed the animals on the other. I often wondered how both Kuwait and Baghdad Zoos could possibly recover from such atrocities. From this review of Kuwait I wish in a way that both zoos were just shut down and the surviving animals moved to good homes.

Here's a link to the book I read if anyone is interested. I can recommend it;
Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo: Amazon.co.uk: Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence: Amazon.co.uk:Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo: Amazon.co.uk: Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence: Amazon.co.uk:
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  #10
Old 06-10-2010

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gracious View Post
This just makes me so sick to my stomach. The conditions are deplorable. Poor creatures. Good reporting, documentary.
In case this discussion takes off in the wrong direction I want to point out that my review was written 18 months ago after one visit.

Since then, Gust has been uploading photographs that show improvements to the exhibits, and that keepers have a more hands-on approach to some species (such as the parrots they handraise).

A more up-to-date review of the zoo is needed.



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  #11
Kuwait
Old 03-01-2011

hello, i came across your post when i was trying to google the zoo's hours. my husband moved to Kuwait about 7 months ago and i came from where we are both from Miami, Fl to visit him and see how i like it. I worked at Miami Seaquarium as an Animal Keeper doing rescue and rehabilitation for manatess and sea turtles so going to the zoo was something i was looking forward to since i will be moving here in a couple of months. Some of his friends explained to him what was the situation with the zoo and how in this country most people dont care about the animals and how they dont follow our western standards that we are used to, so he told me that i probably didnt even want to visit it since it would make me very mad and disappointed. I am still in Kuwait but wont be able to visit the zoo, since i am running tight on my schedule and days left here. But I will be back to this country soon and i did read your whole post and checked out all the pictures. It makes me sad and happy that they have so much of a variety of species of animals. Maybe if I can get a job in this zoo, maybe with a lot of hard work, frustration i can some how make a difference, maybe if its just a little bit. We will see. I will keep you updated.
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  #12
Old 05-01-2011

Yagen,

I look forward to hearing your report of the zoo as it appears to have changed significantly in the time since I was there. You might also want to check out the Scientific Centre, located on the Corniche. Apparently they have a number of native animals on display as well as an aquarium. As I believe this is a recently built construction, they may have a more contemporary feel to it.



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  #13
Old 07-01-2011

i never was able to make it to the zoo, but i did visit the scientific center about a couple of weeks ago, the place was small, but brand new. they did have a lot of exhibits of native animals & they even have a penguin exhibit which was pretty cool. they did seem to be pretty small & a lot of the animals seemed to be lonely since they were in there by themselves. i will be moving to kuwait later on mid year and i will visit the zoo and get back to you guys!!
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  #14
Old 01-08-2011

My original report was written close to two-and-a-half years ago now, and as I've suggested above it appears things have been changing for the better. A link in another thread lead me to the following article which was written in July 2010, and I am now more keen than ever to see an updated, independent review of the zoo today.

Management of Kuwait Zoo open to constructive criticism

There are a couple of negative comments at the bottom of the article by some of the anti-zoo brigade - pay no attention to them as they are closed-minded and the writers have probably never even been to the zoo.



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