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Tierpark Dählhölzli Impressions of Bern Zoo

Discussion in 'Switzerland' started by MRJ, 1 Aug 2019.

  1. MRJ

    MRJ Well-Known Member

    29 Jan 2008
    Bern Zoo (Tierpark Dählhölzli) was the first of three zoos (others being Zurich and Alpinzoo Innsbruck) that I visited during a recent brief visit to Europe. I like to visit zoos that I can learn from, in this connection Bern and Alpinzoo (Innsbruck) Zoos specialize in local fauna, so in visiting I would hope to pick up some ideas for future developments at Moonlit.

    These reviews will be more general impressions than detailed reviews. Please do not expect detailed descriptions of all enclosures or species lists, more important to me than species held are things like what are the gift shops like and what are the catering arrangements. I am also interested as to how visitors react to different exhibits, wayfinding within the zoos and their interpretive material. It is also true to say that I am reluctant to write reviews of zoos in that of course we have to work with a lot of them, and I often visit as a guest rather than a paying visitor. However, I paid my own way with these three zoos and it is unlikely we will have to work with any of them, so here it is.

    Bern Zoo was opened in 1937 as from what I can gather was a fairly conventional small zoo. Today it concentrates on European species and has the motto “more space for fewer animals”. It happens to have been the first zoo Heini Hediger was Director of. It is not far from the city centre and is easily accessible by the number 19 bus from the square opposite the main railway station. Parking is very limited; however, parking spots can be paid for in advance online. It is 15 hectares or 37 acres in size and has about 260 species.

    Entering the zoo, you pass a range of largish aviaries holding grouse and owls, as well as a large pond for flamingos. These exhibits can be viewed without paying admission, which is payed at a small ticket box at the entry to the Vivarium. This building is jam-packed with animals for which the common theme seems to be “animals from countries outside Europe that are normally warmer than Switzerland”. Every class of vertebrate was represented (maybe not all the fish classes) and a selection of invertebrates as well. This building obviously defies both the theme of the zoo and its motto. Not that the exhibits are in any way too small, they are all a reasonable size, decorated to represent the animal’s habitats and with adequate furnishings. I am not complaining because I love buildings like that filled with interesting animals from all over. I would guess that more than half of the zoo’s species are exhibited in this building.

    An underwater view of a large seal pool makes up one wall of the building and you exit around the seal enclosures. All the animals outside, except the leopard (any leopards in Europe?), can be found in Europe. The first to catch my eye was a very attractive exhibit for European ground squirrels. This was a large glass walled enclosure planted out appropriately with a reasonable sized colony of squirrels going about their daily lives. I was fascinated, as was a toddler who rushed across to watch them, only to be dragged away by his mother presumably to see a more important animal.

    Next was a large concrete building which looked as if half its rear had been chopped off and replaced by wire. Entering you come to a large pool, easily large enough to have been used for seals in many zoos, with a “rock” cliff around the edges. Sitting on the rock edges were a number of Atlantic puffins, as well as at least one other species (a guillemot?). From this level the birds are a fair distance away and difficult to see properly, and to be honest from this level the exhibit looks fairly ordinary. Go downstairs and you are looking through full height windows into the pool, which would be up to 5 metres deep. It was just fantastic watching the puffins “fly” through the water. I have seen puffins in aquariums and a couple of zoos before but always small enclosures where they are jammed up against a wall. With tiny pools they tend to just float on the surface. I have never seen an exhibit as good for these animals or the viewer as this one. Add in some large freshwater fish, such as sturgeons, swimming by and for me this was the outstanding exhibit of the zoo. I was not surprised to learn that this was the first zoo to breed the Atlantic puffin.

    I’m guessing this section of the zoo is about half the total area, and it would not take long to walk right around what is basically a single loop. However, there is an extension into a new section that adds considerably to the total acreage. A ramp takes visitors up to a raised pathway, crossing the access path and into a large park-like enclosure for European bison and red deer. This enclosure must be at least the size of the main part of the zoo. The bison were evident but I did not see any deer. I also saw the only wild mammal seen on the entire trip, a red squirrel. Despite spending several days in rural Umbria, I did not see even a rabbit, while at home I would see a dozen or more rabbits every day. Anyway, back to the enclosure. The only way to view the animals was from the raised walkway. I dislike the idea of looking at animals from above in a zoo, it tends to diminish them and makes them more of an object in the eyes of the viewer. To understand what I mean, think how we use the phrase “look down on”. At least the height allows the viewer to see to the back of this huge enclosure. The pathway extends to about three-quarters of the way across the enclosure, so visitors have to turn around and return to the main part of the zoo.

    The inside of the loop contains a handful of non-descript ungulate enclosures, and after passing a children’s zoo and playground the path goes up the hill a bit to a wolf enclosure, owl aviaries and the bear enclosure. Although quite modern, I thought the bear enclosure was only adequate in size, and as we understand the needs of these animals more, will be seen as too small. Really the bison do not need anywhere near the space allocated to them, so a fantastic enclosure could be built for them there. Or how about a mixed bear/bison enclosure? Maybe not.

    A brand-new leopard enclosure not only looks fantastic but appears to be more than adequate for its inhabitants. Next is a very nicely done series of outdoor vivariums for local reptiles, and we are then brought back to the ground squirrels. The “paid” section of the zoo is “done”.

    Visitors are then encouraged to walk down to the river bank where the zoo restaurant, shop, children’s zoo, and some additional exhibits are located. Adding up the entry exhibits, the children’s zoos, and the other exhibits along the river bank there are about 15 enclosures available outside the paid area, and more are being built.

    The enclosures along the river bank are pretty much large areas of natural habitat that have been enclosed. The first enclosure contained waterfowl which of course were visible however the next two contained beavers and otters which of course were nowhere to be seen. It does raise the question does a zoo have a responsibility to its visitors that they have at least a reasonable chance of seeing the animals that inhabit their exhibits? I do believe that by combining good exhibit design and animal training it is possible to accommodate both the animals and visitor’s needs. There were more exhibits further up the river but I was feeling hungry now and anyway something more interesting was happening in the river. The river was flowing very fast and looked quite cold and dangerous. I suddenly noticed a head floating down the river with the body submerged. Before I could organize a rescue attempt, I noticed more people floating down river at speed, some with flotation devices some not. Further down river there were people jumping off a foot bridge and due to the heat, I was sorely tempted to join them, but could not work out what to do with my gear.

    I ate in the zoo restaurant which only offered standard takeaway fare, hamburgers and such. I took the only thing that was close to a local dish, sausages (bratwurst?) and chips (fries). A little disappointing really, but at least it was pleasant sitting under the trees watching the river. The zoo shop was a small room in the childrens zoo area, and not surprisingly due to its location, mostly stocking animal related toys. I took the bus back into the city and after a bit of sight seeing (Bern is a beautiful city) picked up my bag from the hotel and headed to the station for a train to Zurich.
    Last edited: 1 Aug 2019
  2. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

    11 Jan 2015
    Birmingham, UK
    Bern is an underappreciated gem in Europe. Pound for pound I think it is one of the best zoos in the world.
    Maguari likes this.