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Bouncing Through Belgium - A ShonenJake13 Trip

Discussion in 'Belgium' started by ShonenJake13, 23 Jul 2017.

  1. ShonenJake13

    ShonenJake13 Well-Known Member

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    Those of you who have been following my Lost in the Low Countries Thread will know of my intention to start a separate thread for Belgium, as each of the three visits are to be my first time at the zoo in question. Therefore, I will be giving each zoo a rating out of 5 at the end of each post. With that I give you my first review.

    Zoo Antwerpen

    On a very confusing day weather-wise (23 degrees at one point, thundering the next) I found myself approaching the old gates of Antwerp Zoo. Having got a glimpse of it the day before whilst leaving the (fantastic) station, I was excited to say the least. As soon as I entered the zoo I made my way to the primate house, passing an alright mandrill outdoor area. The primate house itself consists of a dark corridor with well-lit indoor enclosures housing multiple species of primate, the most exciting of which was the owl-faced monkeys. For a city zoo primate house it's not half bad, though you can tell it's been around for a while. Following on from this we headed over to the Australia area housing a koala and a Goodfellow's tree kangaroo. Average enclosures, though the animals themselves were typically inactive.
    Passing the average okapi house (where we saw 3/5 okapis) we reached the new ape outdoors. A fantastic addition to the zoo, though we only saw one chimpanzee (Chita) using theirs, and if this is the standard of exhibitry Antwerp is using from now on consider me signed up. The ape house itself, particularly the 'bedroom' areas, were one of the few low points for me during the day, though I was happy to see the small mammal exhibits opposite (especially the black-and-rufous elephant shrews). Rounding a corner past the rather small African penguin enclosure we passed the rest of the chimp group inside, and the empty gorilla inside. The reason for this was simple; all three were outdoors. I was scanning the enclosure for the females, having already spotted Matadi, when suddenly from under us came the black behemoth that is Amahoro! A truly wonderful moment for an ape fan such as myself, having finally seen all six species of great ape. Though the signage says Matadi is the biggest of the three, Amahoro is clearly far larger, a quality she can thank her species for. The gorilla group itself seemed rather mixed in regards to social behaviour; Matadi got on fine with Mambele (and even mated her a couple of times) but the same could not be said for the young silverback and Amahoro. She avoided him a lot of the time. There were some squabbles in the chimp group too, but that was to be expected.
    Going through the cave under the restaurant we found ourselves in one of the top quality exhibits of the zoo; the buffalo enclosure. The enclosure itself is in the middle of a huge walkthrough aviary housing 20 species of bird. This was a huge highlight, both for the size and design as well as the species diversity. Comparing it to the rather prehistoric giraffe/zebra paddocks and elephant paddock, this enclosure was better by a mile. The Temple, used as stable areas for the three types of mammal mentioned above, was interesting to finally see, but I came away feeling more impressed with the aesthetics than the animal areas.
    The hippo enclosure was very nicely put together, with a huge outdoor space. All three individuals seemed content. I particularly liked the loose theme of (semi-)aquatic animals in this area; Dalmatian pelicans, common seals, nutrias and Malayan tapirs being the other animals around here. The enormous aviary next door to the hippo house was fantastic as well, housing ground hornbills, marabous and vultures.
    The lion enclosure, though not gigantic, was rather impressive for two animals. I personally preferred it to all other lion accommodation I've seen in top grade city zoos (Newquay, Bristol, London, Artis etc). Though this was the moment the heavens decided to open, meaning we missed the camels and takins, it was a blessing in disguise as we headed through the penguin house (rather nice space, though it feels cramped) to the aquarium. Here's where a bit of fantasy work comes into play. If Antwerp's exhibit design (with regard to species mixes) was used in an aquarium the size of London Zoo's one, it would be perfect. Though small, I felt very pleased with the fish on offer. The hall reminded me of Artis' one, which is not a bad thing. The shark species were fantastic for such a small aquarium (which came from Aquatopia?) and the tigerfish, giant catfish and octopus were lovely to see too. The highlight here was the coral tank at the end. The reptile house didn't have much to offer design wise but made up for it with species list (electric blue day geckos, Cuban ground iguanas and golden poison frogs). Here the enclosure quality took a bit of a dive (bird of prey aviaries, sea lion theatre which is clearly a repurposed dolphin one, and the Amur leopard and jaguar ones that could well be a carbon copy of Artis' old terraces) but there were a few diamonds amongst the coal so to speak (condor aviary, spectacled bear enclosure and flamingo lawn). The Nocturama under the sea lion theatre was fascinating, and I enjoyed the layout of it, as well as a few of the species (two species of mouse deer, Philippine and Javan, as well as my first springhares living with an active aardvark and a fantastic mixed exhibit at the end home to sloths, night monkeys, fruit bats and armadillos) though the Australian water rat enclosure feels far too generous in size for the relatively small species. Finally, the bird house was another clearly old building repurposed, but some of the species (blue-headed macaw, swift parrot, sandgrouse, green aracari and hyacinth macaw) as well as the dark corridor concept (essentially multiple small bird aviaries with no barrier in the front, within a dark corridor. The idea is the birds will not leave their exhibit as they don't do well in the darkness, and it appears to work well) saved it from being a low point.

    Overall, I was incredibly impressed. A city zoo leagues above others I have visited, and I can see why some choose to list this as their top Belgian zoo. It has its low points as any zoo does, and suffers a bit from its older buildings, but Antwerp has won me over and I will definitely be returning as soon as I can.

    FINAL SCORE: 4/5
     
  2. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Antwerp has always been one of my favourite European zoos and I very much enjoyed your review.

    (Back in 1980, Antwerp was the first foreign zoo that I ever visited; although I have been many times since then it is several years since I was last there.)

    A couple of questions please:-

    · You didn't mention the old Cattle House in your review. On my last couple of visits, the interior of this building was closed to the public although I had been inside on most of my previous visits. I wondered if visitors were now allowed inside the Cattle House again or if the building has been permanently closed to the public. (I recall that there was a memorial inside this building in honour of a previous Antwerp Zoo director, L'Hoest, the person after whom the monkey species was named.)

    · Is the skeleton of the Asiatic elephant "Jacqueline", a former resident of the zoo, still on show inside the "Egyptian Temple"?
     
  3. Vision

    Vision Well-Known Member

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    The cattle house is now empty; the zebras moved in with the giraffes (whose exhibit got a lot larger), and the buffaloes moved to their aviary. The plan is to combine the outdoor exhibits into one large exhibit, and keep white rhinoceroses there (though I don't presume that'll happen very soon). As of now, visitors have access to the outdoors area and a temporary playground is built on it. The interior of the house has unfortunately not been accessible to the public for a few years now, and I'm not sure if it will be in the future.

    Jacqueline's skeleton is not in the Egyptian temple anymore, unfortunately.

    A very nice review of my local zoo (and, architecturally, one of my favorite zoos), Jake! I haven't heard of Amahoro using the outdoor area, but it's very nice to hear that she does now!
     
  4. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Many thanks for answering my questions.
     
  5. ShonenJake13

    ShonenJake13 Well-Known Member

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    Zoo Planckendael

    On an equally confusing day weather wise (less thunder more rain), we made our way to the Whipsnade to Antwerp's London so to speak, Planckendael. As this zoo is split into secfions by continent(s) I will review each section individually in the order we visited them, before giving my overall thoughts at the end.

    Asia

    The immediate thing that struck me with Asia was "this theming is how Land of the Lions should have been themed". What I mean is, not having in your face theming that wastes room for exhibits, but theming that makes you feel like you're in the place, using dead space accordingly. The Asia species list is pretty varied, though most of it is based in a tropical house and various aviaries. The elephant accommodation is fantastic, and reminded me of Chester's. The snow leopards' enclosure left me wanting more (though the height is well done), and the Asiatic lion enclosure is pitiful for a breeding group. The tropical house itself felt quite empty though the species list was nice (Pagoda starling, green-backed heron etc), and the side enclosures within were either good (wrinkled hornbills and argus mixed) or average (gibbons, and the nocturnal exhibits housing black rats, a python species and seemingly invisible pygmy slow loris). The outside viewing tower that overlooks the elephant enclosure is fantastic, and really shows you the scope of it. Overall, I enjoyed Asia as a first exhibit, and particular parts more than others, but it didn't impress me too much as some of the other areas did.

    Oceania

    The smallest area in the zoo and, in my personal opinion, the best. There are only seven exhibits, as well as a lower vertebrate and invertebrate but each is made well and has an impressive species list to boot. Lots of firsts for me here with Tasmanian devils, South-east Australian short-beaked echidnas, wombats and dusky pademelons. The actual section itself is interesting in layout, and despite me reading the species they have on ZTL it left me wondering what was coming next. The one bad thing is that the section surrounds a large pool of water which doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than to warn people of nonexistent 'crocs', a very shallow comment on my part. We left the exhibit very happy.

    Europe

    From the best to in my opinion the worst. Europe is a big zit on Planckendael's 'face'; other than some nicely put together gardens outside what I can assume is the manor the zoo is named after, the actual species list and exhibits are rather lacking. Yes, their European beaver enclosure is rather special (especially with its den with an underwater entrance, something I have yet to see in another zoo with the species), but the rest of their enclosures (for badgers and raccoons) are dingy and not easy for viewing. You can tell they were scraping the barrel with the last species in this forested area, domestic rabbits. The pelican lake and Indian rhino enclosures that you walk between to get to Europe are ok. I personally think that the rhinos should swap with the wisents that are bordering on Asia just across the main path, but that would require too much of a face-lift I guess. Their current accommodation isn't perfect, but it also isn't terrible. Something that saved this area for us was seeing multiple 'wild' white storks on the nest, something my two accomplices who don't visit the Low Countries as much as I do were very amazed by.

    Africa

    Another strong area, with a ton of special species (bonobos, Kordofan giraffes, addax, rhim gazelles that we sadly missed, both subspecies of cheetah present in Europe, Arabian oryx and secretary birds). The bonobo outdoor enclosure is fantastic, though the indoors isn't too great. If I understand right from what I have heard there are plans to refurb/rebuild this and I personally am all for it. The bonobos are currently split into two groups; a group of four and a group of nine and a half (one of the females is pregnant). They were very active as we arrived just in time for feeding, and I enjoyed watching their behavioural interactions. You can view both enclosures on two levels, but I would recommend the bottom level for wheelchair users and the top level for anyone else (the slope up is very steep). There is a decent lemur walkthrough with black and ring-tailed lemurs, a couple of walkthrough aviaries, and two paddocks housing Grevy's zebras in one and Kordofan giraffes, addax, impalas and guineafowl in the other) near the bonobos. The giraffe paddock is the highlight of these two, though the zebra paddock is miles better than the mountain zebra one in Antwerp. There are also a few forested paddocks home to what were once a lot of species of antelope but, due to rain and the antelope house being refurbed, we saw two out of four (Arabian oryx and eastern bongo). The spotted hyena enclosure is average, and the cheetah complex is decent but we only saw one. The Africa section is strong overall, but is affected by a common problem I will outline in my summary at the end.

    America

    The last section of the zoo and slightly weaker than the likes of Oceania and Africa. There are some cool exhibit ideas, like two 'walkthroughs' (where they have no access to the ground) for marmosets and tamarins, and both species of coati (a mix of species I've never seen before). But a lot of it didn't really make me feel 'inspired'. Their penguin enclosure is pretty nice, with steamer ducks and boat-billed herons as examples of some of the species living in there. But again, that's probably the only great enclosure I can think of in the section.

    Summary

    The zoo itself is nice. It's large, it benefits from its surroundings and there are a fair few good exhibits and nice species to get excited about. But the main thing we found ourselves nearly always thinking was, "it's good, but if they just....". There are a lot of easily fixable problems, but there don't seem to be any moves to change these. Another thing is the zoo's 'Dierenrijk'ness; something Africa suffers the most from. There are LOADS of children's play areas, and in some exhibits (Asia and Africa) there are more play areas than exhibits. That isn't (much) of an exaggeration. Of course it gets families in or coming back, but it was difficult to get around with crowds of kids lining up for three playgrounds in a row. The wheelchair access itself isn't great either (paths are very rough) but I suppose that's par for the course with their setting.
    Overall, a rather fantastic zoo with some decent highlights but I vastly preferred Antwerp to here.

    FINAL SCORE: 3.5/5
     
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  6. Vision

    Vision Well-Known Member

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    Another lovely review of a zoo I know very well! A few comments:

    -Cheetahs: They keep an old A.j.jubatus and 2 brothers A.j.soemmeringii, but the two subspecies are never mixed; they alternate between an off-show and the large on-show pen. If you only saw one, either the other was hiding or the old male was out that day. :D

    -Callithricids: The golden-headed lion tamarins and Geoffroy's marmosets can (and do) actually go on the ground, and aren't confined to the trees. I've seen the lion tamarins in the greater cavy exhibit on multiple occasions, with the two species interacting.

    -Summary: The areas you mentioned you liked (Oceania, elephants, flamingo/penguin aviary...) are all fairly recent (re)developments. Unfortunately, since all of the major construction is going on in Antwerp the past few years, it seems Planckendael drew the short end of the stick and thus has to wait a bit longer for everything to get redeveloped.
    It is definitely improving greatly every year however, and one can only hope that after most of the construction in Antwerp is done, they put the focus back on Planckendael, as there is certainly still room for improvement!
     
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  7. ShonenJake13

    ShonenJake13 Well-Known Member

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    Pairi Daiza

    What an interesting zoo. Having only just finished my visit (on a very sunny day I'm happy to announce) I am still trying to piece my thoughts together.

    Everything you've heard about here is true. Essentially, imagine that a place like the Lost Gardens of Heligan or some other ornamental garden became a zoo and had an enormous Asian temple planted in the middle of it. That's Pairi Daiza. The zoo lies in a 160 acre abandoned monastery, meaning that despite their wheelchair friendly maps (showing which paths are easier to manoeuvre one on) the terrain isn't wheelchair friendly at all. Not only is it incredibly hilly, but other visitors not paying any attention to where they're walking causes trouble for wheelchair users as well. The theming is very lavish and over the top at points, though this doesn't always work against the animals. As the zoo is so huge we didn't get to see all of it, we missed the squirrel monkeys, reindeer, raccoons, pelican lake, capybaras and alpacas. But we got to see everything else. I'll go by section just like Planckendael with a summary at the end. The two sections that will be left out are Vallée de la Source (lakes, pelicans, capybaras and birds of prey) and Terre du Froid (reindeer, raccoons and bison) as we didn't get to either of those areas.

    Porte du Ciel

    There isn't much to see here other than the Oasis and the bird of prey show, the latter of which we gave a miss. The setting looks impressive in the shadow of the old clock tower, and I'm assuming this where all their birds of prey are kept (secretary bird, crowned hawk eagle etc). We did see what looked like a buzzard eagle as we passed by looking for the entrance to the Oasis, which is incredibly hard to find!! Once actually indoors the large rainforest house can feel very choc-a-bloc, but the rarities within (bear cuscus, New Guinea short-beaked echidna, northern bog lemming and Luzon rufous hornbill) are worth it. Further in this section is a paddock for dromedaries, and multiple bird aviaries for king vulture, silvery-cheeked hornbill, and multiple parrots. Nothing too noteworthy, but the section isn't particularly awful either.

    Porte des Profondeurs

    My least favourite area. The section consists of the Aquarium, the Crypte and a huge playground. The Aquarium and the Crypte suffer from Pairi Daiza's main problem; theming. Walking through the Aquarium you are led through nautical labs and trinket shops, something I would be perfectly happy with missing. The aquarium itself is ok, the highlight was the olive ridley sea turtle. Other than that there's nothing too fascinating in there. As for the Crypte, this area consists of an underground crypt that has been converted into a bat walkthrough (Egyptian fruit bats and Indian flying foxes), as well as a corridor with enclosures Palestine mole rats (which I missed) and naked mole rats, and a chamber home to multiple newt and toad species in vivaria. For someone with claustrophobia it's not great, but I pressed on to attempt to see the Palestine mole rats. If it wasn't for the mole rats and the turtles I probably wouldn't spend too much time here.

    Cité des Immortels

    This is the Asian area more or less, there are a few exceptions (two South American walkthrough aviaries next to each other, as well as an enclosure for giant otters). In regards to theming this is beautifully done, but again it just feels very over the top and not really zoo-like. The species list isn't bad; Siberian cranes, Sichuan takins, snow leopards, golden-cheeked gibbons, binturongs, red pandas and giant pandas. Neither are the exhibits for the most part. The walkthrough aviaries are well-done (as were essentially all walkthrough aviaries at the zoo), with species like boat-billed heron and roseate spoonbill. All of the main animal enclosures were good with the exception of the red pandas (quite hard to view) and the giant otters (rather small and in my opinion out of place). Seeing the pandas without having to pay in advance was interesting to say the least. Female and cub were outside together in one half whilst the male was inside asleep in the other. It's not hard to see why the pandas bred so fast, their enclosure is rather impressive compared to say Edinburgh and Madrid. The takins neighbouring the snow leopards is also a nice touch. Again, my main gripe is that there's more theming than there is animal space.

    Terre des Origines

    The largest section we visited in regards to land occupied, this is the African section, though the clouded leopards are temporarily behind the lion enclosure whilst a new spot for them in the Asian area is located. There are some very nice exhibits, including two savannah areas (one with buffalo, Burchell's zebras, blue wildebeest and impalas, the other with Rothschild's giraffes, ankole cattle and ostriches), an enclosure for a pair of female African elephants, a hippo enclosure with underwater viewing (sadly the water is awfully murky so not much hope of seeing anything), and the two gorilla volcanoes (one of the bachelor groups is housed with colobus). There are also some very nice bird species, including shoebills and open-billed storks. The carnivore areas (lions, spotted hyenas and cheetahs) are average at best, and there are some ideas that fall short (the hippo underwater is one, another is the idea of the volcanoes the gorillas live in, the height is very much wasted here). Here a few of the zoo's ethical dilemmas come to light; in the lemur walkthrough the staff actively encourage the stroking of the ruffed lemurs, and with the pair of gorillas from Vallée des Singes their begging behaviour that they learnt there is encouraged at feeding times. If it wasn't for these, I would be prepared to rate this as one of the, if not the best section in the zoo. But nevertheless it is still a top quality section for a zoo, and I came away impressed.

    Lagune

    This is a tiny section, comprised of a ship, a small lake, a squirrel monkey island walkthrough, three aquatic enclosures housing South American sea lions, common seals and African penguins, and an Australian area. The ship's interior has been re-converter into a reptile/amphibian/invertebrate house. Again, some nice species (a fantastic venomous section, New Guinea snapping turtle, Chinese alligator) but nothing too groundbreaking, and the layout feels very over the top again. The penguins and seals have lakeside enclosures with part of the lake accessible to the seals, something I was very happy to see. We didn't go onto the squirrel monkey island, but the Australian area is also very well put together, though a walkthrough with very aggressive Australian pelicans left alarm bells ringing in my head. The Tasmanian devil enclosure is the largest I've seen so far, and the koala house is also well designed. Sadly we missed the dorcopsis in the Australian aviary, which was a bit of a downer, but there's always Best I suppose. There's also an enclosure for southern cassowary, small but satisfactory.

    Royaume de Ganesha

    Finally, there's another very much Asian section. This area surrounds and includes an enormous Asian temple that has been built, and the same that has applied to the rest of the zoo so far applies here; theming is beautiful and nicely thought out, but swallows up the exhibit space. It's nice to see a marble temple, but whether it's necessary to house three Sumatran orangutans is another thing. The big cat enclosures here feel very squashed, and the white tigers one in particular. There are some jewels in the crown, like a water buffalo and Visayan warty pig mixed enclosure with actual rice paddies, a very large Sulawesi crested macaque enclosure, and a fantastically elaborate indoor burrow for Tasmanian wombats. The orangutan enclosures also aren't too bad, the one for the pair in particular (the one for the trio is ok but the temple is incredibly over the top). There are also three onshow elephant enclosures, one for a group of three elderly females, one for an African female and an Asian female living together, and one for a herd of six. I assume there's a bull offshow as the herd of six had calves present. The elephant areas are ok, the large one at the top housing the big herd is by far the best. However, here we experienced a call back to what we saw in Terre; the Asian elephants have free contact with staff. Every day at 1:30 and 4pm a single female is taken out of the main herd and ridden around the section (one staff member atop her shoulders, another with a stick walking behind and to the side of her), with a stop at a bath, as well as a few stops for the public to stroke her. Personally, I don't mind the walk and bathing aspect, but I think the riding is unnecessary and the stroking definitely not required. Regardless, the section is unbelievable in terms layout and theming. It definitely warrants a thorough explore, as there's all sorts of fascinating areas and species to see and to enjoy.

    Summary

    Again, this zoo is very confusing. There are plenty of great aspects to it; the species list does not disappoint and, to a degree, the theming is rather nice too. However, the laxness of staff with visitors touching the animals and allowing some animals to beg for their food raises some big question marks. The theming is over the top, more in some areas than others, and some places feel rather ridiculous. There are also play areas everywhere, and catering outlets too.
    But, unfortunately, that is the future of zoos. Theme park-y zoos are doing better and better (hence why Pairi Daiza, San Diego and Loro Parque are listed as the best zoos of their respective countries on TripAdvisor) as, for the everyman, it's seen as a better day out. I didn't dislike Pairi Daiza and, for my sins, actually preferred it to Planckendael. But I can definitely understand why zoochatters frown upon it. The whole sellout aspect (owned by a billionaire) is very hard to miss.
    Did I hate it? No. Would I be happy to revisit soon? Yes. As soon as the other two? Probably not.
    A mixed bag through and through, but it's not hard to see why it has done so well with the public. Antwerp still wins out as my favourite of the three though.

    FINAL SCORE: 4/5
     
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