What follows is my review of De Zonnegloed, an animal sanctuary in Oostvleteren, Belgium, which I visited on August 11th, 2018. This is an extensive review that got more lengthy that I set out to. I hope it will be appreciated. I do plan to write more reviews in the future, but I'm not sure they will be as detailed and extensive as this one for a facility not previously featured at ZooChat. I hope you guys appreciate it. Let me know if you have any criticisms or questions. De Zonnegloed Sanctuary – Date of visit: August 11th, 2018 Location details of the facility De Zonnegloed Kasteelweg 22 B-8640 Oostvleteren Province of West-Vlaanderen, Belgium 50°56'26.66" N 2°45'08.40" E Home - De Zonnegloed - Dierenpark - Dieren opvangcentrum - Sanctuary Home - De Zonnegloed - Animal park - Animal refuge centre Plan van het park - De Zonnegloed - Dierenpark - Dieren opvangcentrum - Sanctuary (This situation as drawn on this map is not entirely up to date compared to the presently existing situation in the park at the time of my visit.) De Zonnegloed Images De Zonnegloed Sanctuary | ZooChat I have yet to post my photographic overview of De Zonnegloed in the ZooChat gallery. I am still working on my selection of images and I will be doing so as soon as possible. Introduction I first heard of this facility a few years ago through different channels, including the story of this place rescuing two bears and giving them a new home being shown and detailed on national television. On August 11th, 2018 I was finally given the opportunity to spend an afternoon touring this relatively small facility and I gladly did so I can now report to you about my visit to this sanctuary. That said, it is perhaps a little bit strange that I am discussing this facility on ZooChat, given that this place itself states they are not a zoo, but an animal sanctuary. De Zonnegloed was originally founded as an educational petting zoo/children’s farm in the nineties, before becoming an animal sanctuary in March of 2011 and a member of the European Alliance for Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS) in 2016. Being a sanctuary they do not breed, buy, sell, exchange or trade animals and do not participate in any type of breeding program. Their mission is to rescue exotic animals that cannot be released to the wild from unsuitable captive conditions and to provide them with an appropriate lifetime home and quality care, as well as to educate the public about exotic animals. But De Zonnegloed (which translated to English would mean “the glow of the sun”) does have a zoo license under Belgian law (which they are required to have to operate as they do as a facility with exotic species open to the public) and they are still a publicly accessible facility with exotic species, so I believe that a discussion of and images from this facility do belong on ZooChat. I also contacted them and they had no problem with their facility being shown, discussed and given attention on ZooChat. And so I will be showing and discussing De Zonnegloed on here. Discussion of the visit I arrived at De Zonnegloed on a warm August day at the crack of noon. There’s no true middle of nowhere to speak of in Flanders but De Zonnegloed is located in a place that is about as rural as it gets in Flanders, located near the small village of Oostvleteren (part of the community of Vleteren) and surrounded, with the exception of a nearby bed and breakfast, as far as the eye can see almost entirely by agricultural land, mostly cow pastures. As the small parking lot next to the park itself was already full parking took place in - indeed - a nearby former cow pasture that had been partially paved with fairly rough crushed stone debris. But even then it wasn’t the worst place we’ve ever had to park at or near a zoo – that title of dishonor would from my memory go to the sometimes very wet and muddy parking lots full of large craters at the Olmense Zoo, or to parking in a filthy, obscene graffiti-covered little public parking lot full of leaf litter and garbage near Zoo Wuppertal. It was a little bumpy but not all that unpleasant – and there were luckily no old cow patties left to step in or drive through. But let’s enter De Zonnegloed now, shall we? The entrance was a pathway between wooden fencing leading you towards a big modern wooden barn. The ticket office is located within the barn, which is a central building at the sanctuary, containing several animal enclosures as well as a large indoor playground, the self-service restaurant and gift shop. Given the long journey I’d had and it being noon already, pretty much the first thing I did there was having a bite to eat. The sandwich I had was clearly bought pre-packaged and while they were far from the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, I would call them ‘edible’ rather than truly ‘tasty’. They were also, like the drinks, quite pricey – but given that the facility states all revenues from food and drinks go to the rescue and care of animals, I can definitely live with that. Unfortunately the corridor where the dining tables were located was fairly noisy, but that was mostly due to other visitors, so I’m not at all blaming the park for that one. After our lunch I began my tour of the sanctuary. Within the barn a walking route starts that claims you will not miss nothing following it, which as it would turn out is actually correct. Not only that, but the route would turn out to be fairly logical and to be clearly signed and indicated all around the park. I definitely appreciate this, as I’ve noticed the walking routes being a real problem at other facilities. Within the barn two wooden “dens”, home to golden hamsters and Mongolian gerbils, were located. For these small species they were spacious and I noticed how much opportunity for hole and tunnel digging the hamsters were given – so much in fact I didn’t get to see any. For some reason unclear to me the gerbils, despite also being a digging rodent species, had far less, but they still lived in adequate housing easily surpassing what they would usually have when kept as a pet. The bottom level of the barn also incorporates four indoor exhibits housing five primate species: lion-tailed macaques, Barbary macaques, ring-tailed and brown lemurs and common marmosets. I found the indoor monkey exhibits perhaps a bit clinical looking but they were good size and seemed to be decent indoor accommodation for the species kept. The viewing area around these exhibits was all framed and finished with wood, as in fact was the rest of the barn. In fact wood turned out to be a very common building and framing/finishing material all around the sanctuary. I didn’t mind as in my opinion it gave the place a pleasant, homely and naturalistic feeling. The upper level of the bar also holds some exhibits, but as I did not visit these until later I will not discuss them now. The same goes for the outdoor home of the monkeys whose indoor quarters I discussed in this paragraph. Walking past by a small but okay outdoor cage for the common marmosets, a closed or perhaps former walk-through lemur enclosure and a small area of shrubs with a little slightly worn-out coop, home to Brahma chickens, one of the biggest of the chicken breeds (we saw one hen), we reached a pretty good and nice-looking Eurasian lynx exhibit with plants and climbing structures, viewable through wood-framed windows. Next up was the petting zoo, which is what De Zonnegloed started out being. The domestic animals of course continue to live at De Zonnegloed. The first and “oldest” part of the petting zoo begins with a relatively small sandy paddock housing two dwarf zebus, followed by a barn home to dwarf rabbits, domestic guinea pigs and white Indian fantail pigeons. The pigeons can fly around outside the barn, the rabbits and guinea pig do not have an outdoor yard – something that I feel is missing a bit here. Next to this barn is an obligatory muddy yard home to a pot-bellied pig (fast asleep in its barn). The pig and the Reeves’s muntjac living in a nearby paddock have their indoor quarters in a single little barn, with a visitor passage way in between the two little stables. Two males Reeves’s muntjacs, both with their small antlers still covered in velvet and one with his fairly nasty looking canines clearly displayed had a spacious grassy yard, partially fenced off by wooden walls, with shrubs and small trees it and a wooden bridge for the visitors across it. I assume the yard would make the muntjacs feel more at home the quaint little addition of one of those Chinese hand fans in their little stable. Why the paddock had a strangely designed triangular viewing shelter when viewing was great from the bridge I do not know. The next part of the petting zoo area was redone earlier this year with the placement of new fences and the construction of new wooden barns. In nice yards alpacas and miniature donkeys, dwarf goats and Ronquières turkeys (a Belgian breed) and ponies (no breed specified, but they appeared pretty Shetland to me) were kept. The ponies only had sand; the other domestics had at least some grass. Getting out of the petting zoo area, the domestics weren’t over with yet. We hadn’t seen any sheep yet, but that was soon to be remedied as the next paddock was a large grassy paddock with Cameroon sheep, strangely mixed with white-naped cranes that despite an open gate didn’t seem to be feeling like getting out of the little aviary next to their barn. A nice big grassy yard, but it did seem to lack a pool for the cranes. Next up, more domestics, and more sheep. Ouessant sheep this time. However, a sign indicated they were serving only serving a temporary filler and natural lawn mower for this area, because in this area De Zonnegloed is planning the construction of two enclosures to house large cats – namely the mountain lion and leopard they are planning and raising funds for to rescue and home. The area seems big enough to me to adequately house these rescued cats. Down the road I saw two apparently no longer occupied aviaries of the bird-of-prey type. One had a sign on it indicating future construction of bird-of-prey aviaries. From what I gather they are planning to construct at this location the second phase of their bird-of-prey area. The first phase was completed only very recently a little further down the road, across a bridge through a grove of reed and willows. Five new aviaries held Harris’s hawks, rufous-legged owls, common kestrels, morepork and Siberian and Eurasian eagle owls. The one holding the eagle owls seemed a bit small, but it had a sign on it saying it was a temporary exhibit, so perhaps these will eventually move to the second phase area. The other aviaries were nicely looking and adequate for their inhabitants. I especially appreciated being able to see and photograph reasonably well the rarer species rufous-legged owl and morepork. Down the road from the owls you see a yard holding reindeer and a single Sandhill crane. The Sandhill crane had his own separate little section of the yard the reindeer cannot access, and while it’s a pretty okay yard, there was again no pool for the crane. I was only able to spot the reindeer hiding away in their barn, which given the temperature and sunniness during my visit was kind of to be expected. After doing a little photoshoot with the Sandhill crane as a model I entered what the park itself calls the “nature trail”, a pathway including some bridges in between shrubs, hedgerows, trees and views of the surrounding countryside – as in, mostly lots of cow pastures. Even after only a little bit of rainfall the night before my visit the trail was in places a bit slick and muddy and given the clay-type soil in Oostvleteren I think it’s safe to assume it’s not always pleasant or even at all possible to walk down this pathway. After a while this trail brings you to a paddock holding Scottish Highland cattle. The paddock is very large, at least compared to the relatively small size of the sanctuary (which, according to some measuring I did in Google Earth, is about 5.5 hectares of 13.59 acres) and grassy. Trees right outside the paddock provided shade to these hairy cows, a breed that is commonly used for by natural land managers and nature curators for grazing in nature reserves and semi-wild areas in Western Europe. The paddock was definitely adequate for the cows but it was not very exciting. Still going down the slightly slick trail alongside the sanctuary’s outer border I reached another paddock, this one holding more exotic cows – Ankole-Watusi cattle – and a single zebra that looked to be a Damara to me. The fencing of this yard was slightly odd, consisting on this side of green PVC-coated mesh fencing with wooden boards covering part of it. Not the best for viewing nor photography, but I guess it does serve its purpose in giving the animal privacy and providing a barrier. The yard itself was a decent, nice-looking general hoofstock yard. So was a similar yard next door that houses another zebra – this time one that looked like a Grant’s to me – a pair of blackbuck, a single grey crowned crane and some helmeted guineafowl. The crane and guineafowl I noticed both had their own little wooden coops for shelter. Unlike the previous yard this one did have an adjacent stable for the larger animals, and given the presence of a gate between the two yards I assume all of the larger animals are housed in that stable, which seemed to be of recent construction and looked pretty decent, though not very big. Leaving the hoofstock area I now entered what I would like to call the “small mammal area”, which is home to twelve species of smallish predator or omnivore from a few different families as well as to three species of rodent. Given that I do really appreciate small mammals, a species group not always given enough attention or space in zoos, I appreciated this area quite a bit. This area also houses three invasive alien species (raccoon, ring-tailed coati and coypu) that have been banned by the European Union, meaning that while animals alive before the ban can be kept until they naturally meet their maker, there is no more breeding, exchange or transport of these species allowed. There’s sadly no exception even for zoological facilities that do breed, so in some years we won’t be seeing these species anymore in Europe (perhaps with the exception of post-Brexit Great Britain?). Thus this law not only takes away the holding of these species in captivity – even if the coypu and raccoon (and other species, like the Reeves’s muntjac) are already spreading in the wild in some places – but also the educational opportunities resulting from public captive holding of these species. This is not a huge problem for “big” zoos, but admittedly smaller zoological parks do in part rely on species like the ones that have now been banned. Another problem is that the species list is specifically intended to gradually include more species, thus gradually making it possible to use it as a “weapon” of sorts against zoological facilities and private holders of exotic species. I am very much in favor of regulation of invasive alien species, but this regulation I find way too harsh and overbearing. Casting aside this little forage into European Union invasive species politics, the small mammal area was quite nice. With the exception of the two fox species all species in this area have viewable indoor housing, and only the chinchillas have no outdoor housing. The indoor housing for six species and the chinchilla exhibit are located in the “small mammal barn”, a single barn with a visitor pathway going through it and these all rather nice, clean, modern and adequate – I have definitely seen worse for species like these (the Olmense Zoo being one clear example I have seen myself). The other species, with the exception of the foxes, have viewable dens. The area admittedly had some weaknesses - the skunk enclosure being quite small in general, albeit still adequate, the fennec fox indoor housing being quite unappealing and not offering much hiding or den space, some of the dens perhaps being relatively small and being largely or completely viewable, the nice coati enclosure not allowing easy viewing or photography, the coypu exhibit being honestly a bit ugly though adequate – but the exhibits nonetheless all seemed of decent to good quality, providing adequate to good housing for the animals. A nice plus was that the small mammal barn didn’t even smell bad as such houses often tend to do, although all enclosures being glass-fronted might be helpful in that respect. I will show and further comment on individual exhibits in the gallery. Interspersed with the exhibits was a small but nice naturalistic pic-nicking area. Full species list of the small mammal area: Striped skunk, fennec fox, crested porcupine and meerkat, yellow mongoose and meerkat, Asian small-clawed otter, ring-tailed coati, raccoon, chinchilla, European genet, nutria/coypu, silver variant of the red fox and Arctic fox, binturong, European badger Leaving the small mammal area I walked past by the park’s second large barn on one side, and the previously discussed exotic hoofstock yards on the other. I got a good look at a small but decent recent hoofstock stable. I also noticed how on this side the hoofstock yards were fenced with fencing covered by hedges, with some viewing windows cut into the hedges. Also again passing by the previously discussed Scottish Highland cattle yard I reached the Eurasian brown bear exhibit. Two bears rescued from terrible conditions, named Berros and Elena, live in the main, fairly large grassy yard that also provides small trees, a pool and waterfall and dens. All in all again a pretty good exhibit. In a separate area two more bears, named Mimi and Uli, rescued from living in appalling circumstances in Albania only very recently, were still kept off-show as they were still in treatment and getting used to their new, permanent home. The park detailed the story of this rescue through signs, a TV-screen, the feeding tour by one of the keepers I attended later on in the day (and will discuss later in this review) and on their website and social media. Passing the previously discussed reindeer/Sandhill crane paddock I next saw a large, sandy Bactrian camel yard and a grassy llama yard. The small trees in the latter yard did not appear to have survived the heat and drought in the weeks prior to my visit. Otherwise both yards were okay and certainly adequate, but not really remarkable exhibits in any sense. In this area I again noticed the very naturalistic design and lay-out of the park, with again pathways in between hedgerows and trees. I can definitely appreciate this and on a pretty hot day it was quite pleasant. Shortly thereafter I walked past the “backside” of the petting zoo towards what turned out to be the olive baboon house. The baboon indoor housing was a bit weaker than the previously discussed indoor monkey housing both in terms of visibility and of exhibit quality, but it still looked adequate and secure. Via a cage next to their house the baboons can access a large grassy island with a good amount of climbing structures. On the other side of the path was a rather narrow but longish yard housing two emus and two red-necked wallabies. I noticed that the wallabies had good indoor housing in a wooden barn, adorned with the seemingly obligatory yellow and black Australian road sign indicating the nearby presence of an animal from Down Under. Further down the road a nice big pond surrounded by trees and vegetation was home to a pair of mute swans. Near the pond was a small yard holding Patagonian maras. The mara yard was nice but seemed a bit small for the number of animals kept. Next to the baboon island was another island, this one however seemingly barren as all the grass on his had succumbed to the recent drought. This island housed a pair of Lar gibbons and, somewhat strangely, a seemingly single Ouessant sheep. The deep moat around and between the islands was according to signage home to capybaras, but we didn’t see any. I spotted a little ramp giving them access to an off-show yard, so I assume they were probably in there. I did see a pair of bar-headed goose on the edge of one of the islands. The walking route now led me past the indoor housing for the gibbons, consisting of two rooms that were similar to the indoor monkey housing in the central barn in style and exhibit design. I’ve definitely seen smaller and less adequate indoor housing for gibbons. The gibbons were housed in the park’s second big barn and the path now led me into it. The barn held some educational areas, a quarantine room viewable through glass, a veterinary care room under construction and a new animal kitchen. It seemed the development of this area was still ongoing, but what there already was, seemed nice indeed. The barn also allowed viewing of the capybara indoor housing, which seemed a bit smallish to me, and lacked the possibility of indoor bathing. My journey continued with two very nice-looking spacious and well-furnished indoor exhibits housing two servals, who also had an adequate but not huge outdoor cage. On the opposite side of the path was a good-size and nicely furnished cage housing Eastern gray squirrels, which we didn’t see but as suggested by the presence of food and recent gnawing marks were probably hiding in one of the nesting boxes. Next up was the “little critter attic”, as the park itself called it, located indeed in the attic of the restored old stone barn (according to painted letters on its side dating back to 1922) and on the second level of the adjacent new wooden barn I discussed earlier. The name is a slight misnomer as not all critters living up there are quite so small – and many are not quite as cute as the name suggest, even if some admittedly are small, cute or even both. The attic is home to De Zonnegloed’s captive herpetological and invertebrate fauna as well as to big hairy armadillos, four-toed hedgehogs and several species of callitrichids (see the full species list below). The exhibits in the little critter attic seemed generally of average to good size and quality to me. The armadillo and basilisk exhibits were the only ones that appeared to be maybe a bit small to me. Some looked a bit clinical as they had the same white walls as the monkey indoor exhibits, but they still seemed to be adequate housing. I don’t believe I saw any really weak exhibits in the attic. I quite liked the whole attic personally. The visitor area was also quite nice, because as is customary at De Zonnegloed much of the construction and finishing in the attic was done with wooden boards. Full species list of the “little critter attic”: Cumberland slider turtle and boa constrictor, giant African land snail, green iguana and red-footed tortoise, green iguana, Hermann’s tortoise, spur-thighed tortoise, red-handed tamarin and yellow-bellied slider turtle, bearded dragon, leopard gecko, curly-hair tarantula, Mexican rust-leg tarantula, Mexican red-knee tarantula, Argentinian wood roach, four-toed hedgehog, oriental fire-bellied toad, ball python, Algerian orange-tailed skink, corn snake, pygmy marmoset, common basilisk, big hairy armadillo, Dumeril’s boa, savannah monitor, black-tufted marmoset. Through the barn I now made my way to the final area I still had to tour. The area started with a decent if a bit bland brown looking wood and mesh aviary for Quaker parrots, Fischer’s and yellow-collared lovebirds and as far as I could see a single female red-winged parrot. Their fairly nice indoor housing in a small wooden barn was viewable through a window. On the opposite of the side I saw the outdoor cage – not huge but adequate - for the lion-tailed macaques whose indoor quarters within the barn I discussed earlier. Next to the small parrots was a larger adequate aviary holding African grey parrots and orange-winged amazons. Their adequate and decent-sized indoor housing was located in a small wooden house also holding the indoor housing for the red-and-green and blue-and-yellow macaws living in a similar aviary next door. On the other side of the path was the outdoor cage for the Barbary macaques which was relatively small but in my opinion not inadequate. A little further down the road was the lemur exhibit I mentioned earlier, which appeared to be a closed-off (or former?) walk-through. Quite a nice enclosure. The ring-tailed lemurs did show themselves, the brown lemurs we finally spotted distantly and hardly visible in a separate outdoor cage. To continue with the primates further down the path there were two connected adequately sized and furnished cages for brown capuchins, with in between them a wooden house similar to the parrot house with relatively good indoor quarters similar to the other monkey indoor exhibits. One of the capuchin cages can be viewed from a slightly strange wooden (of course, right) viewing corridor that also allowed viewing of the indoor and outdoor exhibits for cotton-top tamarins, a pretty good exhibit, possibly the best of all the exhibits holding callitrichids at De Zonnegloed. The viewing corridor dead-ended on the fencing and viewing area of the previously discussed muntjac yard. With these exhibits I had now toured all public areas at De Zonnegloed and seen all exhibits. I still had plenty of time left there so next I toured once more the area around the monkey islands, the small mammal area and the parrot/monkey area, this time focusing on animal photography rather than discovering the facility and viewing exhibits (of course I had already taken whatever animal shots I could earlier on). After a bit of rest I took one of the feeding tours – two are held by keepers at the Zonnegloed a day, at least on summer days. He took a group of interested visitors on a tour starting with the bears, then continuing on to the small mammal area and in between educational talks about the animals and what De Zonnegloed does, he fed the bears apples, some of the predatory small mammals one-day old chicks and both fish and chicks to the others. I’m not squeamish about this feeding stuff and actually quite like to see it, even if it gets a bit gory. The tour was nice and informative and I appreciated it. It was actually my first time seeing multiple species in multiple exhibits being fed and talked about. Usually it’s just one species or one exhibit that is being addressed during a keeper talk. The keeper clearly knew what he was doing and what he was speaking about, once more making it clear that the people at De Zonnegloed do know about animals and what do with them, and that they do manage their animals and animal housing quite professionally. After one final tour of the little critter attic my visit came to an end. I left De Zonnegloed quite content and satisfied, and glad to have discovered this facility. It had been a good afternoon for sure. The good The presence of a logical, well-signed walking route that correctly claims you will not miss anything following it. The general high standard which the park appears to keep itself to regarding the quality of the exhibits. I believe most if not all exhibits can be called at least adequate. Of course given its nature the place does not have any multi-million euro grand, spectacular immersive enclosures, but nonetheless the sanctuary generally has attractive and suitable animal housing in a nice setting. I definitely appreciated the great majority of the enclosures. At least some of the enclosures at De Zonnegloed are exhibits that actual zoos, whether small private zoos or even accredited facilities, shouldn’t have to be ashamed of having at their facility. The general naturalistic park design and lay-out with lots of wood, hedgerows, vegetation and trees that made the park not only look quite nice but also pleasant to visit even on a hot day. The good level of attention to education around the park. The average Some exhibits were probably average but adequate rather than good or great. I wasn’t a big fan of the sandy yards (pony, zebu) in the petting zoo area, at least compared to the grassy yards. The nature trail at the back of the park, while nice, is not the easiest route to walk as well as quite narrow. Food and drinks are quite pricey at this place, though revenues do go towards the animals. The food is pre-packaged and not that tasty, but still edible. The men’s toilets in the barn seemed to me a bit dirty, worn-out and poorly designed. Viewing and photography were a little challenging at some exhibits due to their design and construction. The bad and the ugly Not much actually that I would put into this category. The coypu enclosure was in my opinion the ugliest in the park. The capybara indoor housing could be improved upon. The pig yard was just a small slab of mud, basically. The rabbits and guineapigs in the little barn had no outdoor yard. Conclusion Given that De Zonnegloed is a sanctuary rather a real zoo I did have a bit of reservations going there, given the very aggressive anti-captivity tone taken by some sanctuaries. To my pleasure I did not find much of that at De Zonnegloed. Yes, there seemed to be general message against exotic pet ownership, which is understandable given what they do – they see the consequences of irresponsible holding regularly. And while I do not myself oppose exotic pet ownership, I can be sympathetic to the keeper’s statement during the feeding tour that exotic animal belong in the wild or in a decent zoo rather than with private owners. There was some talk in the sanctuary’s little news magazine, distributed for free in the restaurant area, about a type of regulation that I do not agree is necessarily the best for regulation of exotic pet ownership (something that I do strongly believe is necessary, rather than blanket bans) but I can understand why they would argue in favor of this. The general massage was not the only pleasant discovery at the Zonnegloed. The most pleasant discovery for me was the general high quality of the exhibits and animal care at the facility, as well as the naturalistic lay-out of the park. I enjoyed both of these a great deal. I am glad to have discovered De Zonnegloed as it proved to be a very pleasant acquaintance with this facility that I ended up appreciating very much. If I get the chance to visit this place again in the future I definitely will. Would I recommend ZooChatters visit this facility? Most definitely. If you are in the area and have the opportunity to visit De Zonnegloed, I’d say you should definitely consider doing so.