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Melbourne Zoo Melbourne Zoo Review (November/December 2023)

Discussion in 'Australia' started by Zoofan15, 21 Apr 2024.

  1. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Introduction: The Zoo With Two Entrances

    In November and December 2023, I made a total of four visits to Melbourne Zoo. The first visit was around four hours and I visited my favourite precincts: Gorilla Rainforest, Trail of the Elephants and Lion Gorge; as well as the Main Trail. It would have been possible to see the whole zoo in a day, but I didn’t want to rush; and so the second visit was a whole day visit during which I visited the remaining precincts including Wild Sea, Growing Wild, Australian Bush and the Reptile House. The third visit was a short afternoon visit during which I revisited my highlights; and the fourth visit was another short trip to see a species I’d missed on previous visits.

    Visiting Melbourne Zoo was best described as putting a face to a name. My earliest association with the zoo was as a child in the 2000’s, when I was given a copy of Melbourne Zoo’s guidebook from 1992 by a family friend. I read about their gorilla infants (Mzuri and Buzandi) and saw photos of their tigers, elephants etc. As I grew older, I heard about Melbourne Zoo in relation to species I followed. Many animals I visited in New Zealand zoos were either born at Melbourne Zoo, descended from Melbourne Zoo animals or sent to Melbourne Zoo. I watched Melbourne Zoo documentaries and saw them featured in documentaries about other zoos. As an adult, I’ve read research papers authored by Melbourne Zoo staff and thoroughly enjoyed discussing Melbourne Zoo on ZooChat - including it’s past, present and future. Unlike some zoos I’ve visited with a blank slate, I had a picture in my mind of just about every square inch of Melbourne Zoo, which made seeing it in person all the more interesting.

    Melbourne Zoo opened in 1862 and is Australia’s oldest zoo. Melbourne Zoo has two entrances, which although not unique within Australian zoos, was a novelty to me coming from New Zealand, where all four of our main zoos have a single entrance.

    Main Entrance:

    upload_2024-4-21_16-50-28.jpeg

    Rail Gate Entrance:

    upload_2024-4-21_16-51-15.jpeg

    Note: All photos throughout this review are my own, unless otherwise specified.
     
  2. FunnyJamie

    FunnyJamie Member

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    Hope you enjoyed the zoo! seems like you did. Their collection has taken some big hits in the last decade, but they've been working pretty hard to turn it around. With some very recent hopeful additions to the native section. Still a very solid zoo in their current state though.
     
  3. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thank you. I throughly enjoyed my visits to Melbourne Zoo. I went with high hopes and I was not disappointed. I’ll be posting the review precinct by precicnt over the next week or so, so still lots to come. :)
     
  4. austrlain zoo gower

    austrlain zoo gower Well-Known Member

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    looking forward to the review and photos are you reviewing the different trails also
     
  5. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thanks and yes, each trail will be covered with its own post and photos.

    On my first visit, I visited the Gorilla Rainforest, Trail of the Elephants and Lion Gorge in that order so will review them first; followed by the Main Trail.

    On my second visit, I revisited the above; as well as visiting Wild Sea, Growing Wild, Australian Bush and the Reptile House.
     
  6. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Part One: Gorilla Rainforest

    If you enter Melbourne Zoo via the Main Gate, a logical place to start is the Gorilla Rainforest Trail. The first exhibit is a walk through exhibit housing Ring-tailed lemur. The exhibit is spacious, well presented and can easily manage a large flow of pedestrian traffic. Melbourne Zoo hold a bachelor troop of Ring-tailed lemur. An unexpected sighting in this exhibit was a Gippsland water dragon.

    Ring-tailed lemur exhibit:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-43-15.jpeg

    To access the next exhibit (Black and white ruffed lemur), you pass through a series of arboreal pods, which double as vantage points of the exhibit. Unlike the Ring-tailed lemur exhibit, which is netted; the Black and white ruffed lemur exhibit is open air. The partially moated exhibit gives the illusion of an island, with access to the water restricted via hot wire fencing. It’s an ample size for the two females that inhabit it. Though both lemur exhibits were of a high standard, I’ll admit my eagerness to visit the upcoming gorilla complex stole my focus on the first visit.

    Black and white ruffed lemur exhibit:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-44-9.jpeg

    Melbourne Zoo’s Gorilla Rainforest opened in 1990. I’ve read about this exhibit since childhood and seen it featured in various documentaries. I approached it with high expectations and yet was still impressed. The epitome of immersion, this exhibit is 1600m/2 in size and lushly planted. Within the region’s city zoos, I struggle to think of any exhibit which has aged as well as this. The exhibit was designed to accomodate a family troop of around 10 gorillas and while it’s currently under-utilised by a 1.1 pair and their adolescent daughter, the relative independence of these three gorillas meant there was plenty to see across the multiple viewing points throughout the exhibit. It’s a credit to the design of the exhibit that the apes were almost constantly on the move, utilising features such as the caves; foraging amongst the vegetation; and traversing the undulating topography. Top marks for this exhibit.

    Gorilla Rainforest:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-45-8.jpeg

    Gorilla Rainforest:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-46-21.jpeg

    Otana:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-57-53.jpeg

    The Pygmy hippopotamus exhibits and Mandrill exhibit (currently vacant) were built to compliment the Gorilla Rainforest and opened in 1992. These exhibits haven’t aged as well as the gorilla exhibit and while it was exciting to see the zoo’s male Pygmy hippopotamus at the underwater viewing window on one of my visits, the exhibit as a whole could do with a refurb. The Mandrill exhibit is looking similarly dated and is currently vacant following the departure of the Southern cassowary that last inhabited it. Originally built to accomodate a small family troop of Mandrill, it easy to imagine similar numbers would make the exhibit look cramped three decades on. While I’m not a fan of vacant exhibits, it was interesting nonetheless to see the old Mandrill exhibit. The immersive design was evident even with the absence of animals, which I’ll admit sounds paradoxical.

    Pygmy hippopotamus exhibit:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-49-0.jpeg

    Felix:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-49-55.jpeg

    Old Mandrill exhibit:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-51-1.jpeg

    Next up was the Treetop Apes and Monkeys boardwalk. Though these exhibits were well planted, the overhead mesh made them look dated. The Emperor tamarin and Cotton-top tamarin exhibits are a reasonable size due to the size of their inhabitants; but the gibbon, colobus and spider monkey exhibits are comparatively cramped. Many zoos in the region exhibit spider monkeys in large open air exhibits, which can accomodate larger troops than Melbourne’s, which was further split into two on my visit. Though I enjoyed watching the colobus, viewing was limited by the tinted windows, which were there to give them privacy. While the elephant complex will surely take priority in redevelopments, I hope these exhibits aren’t far behind.

    Cotton-top tamarin exhibit:

    upload_2024-4-26_21-47-30.jpeg
     
  7. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

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    I look forward to this extensive, step-by-step review of Melbourne Zoo. It honestly seems that most of the Gorilla Rainforest loop holds up quite well, with the new lemur exhibits mixing in with the more established enclosures. Everything looks lush and well vegetated and I love that shot of the Pygmy Hippo!
     
  8. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thanks, I appreciate it. The lemur exhibits opened 2013 and replaced the old gorilla exhibits. Along with the Gorilla Rainforest, they set the scene for a modern world class zoo.

    Part Two - Trail of the Elephants is coming next!
     
  9. marmolady

    marmolady Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    The spider monkeys, to my experience, have access to two enclosures joined together, giving the impression of two separate exhibits. I would be interested if the group was actually physically split.
     
  10. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Part Two: Trail of the Elephants

    The Trail of the Elephants Trail follows on nicely from the Gorilla Rainforest Trail and is the zoo’s largest precinct. The first exhibit houses Asian small-clawed otters. The design is reminiscent of a drained South East Asian riverbed and is a reasonable size compared to others in the region. The small family group (breeding pair and their three adult sons) were making full use of the space.

    Asian small-clawed otter exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-11-53.jpeg

    The Sumatran tiger exhibit is next and is designed to replicate a forest. It opened in 1992 and currently houses a male tiger named Hutan. Like the gorilla exhibit, this is an exhibit I’ve read a lot about over the years and I was a little underwhelmed seeing it in person. It was much smaller than I imagined and is starting to look a little dated. It’s crowning feature is arguably it’s BOH facilities, which have previously enabled the zoo to house multiple big cats at any point in time. Hutan has access to the dens and frequently takes himself off (especially after a feed) meaning there wasn’t a lot of visitor interest in this exhibit.

    Sumatran tiger exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-13-54.jpeg

    The trail includes a rainforest aviary and a wetlands aviary. Neither are large aviaries, but it’s great to see Melbourne integrate bird species into a primarily megafauna centric precinct.

    Black-winged stilt aviary:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-15-0.jpeg

    The Butterfly House opened in 1985 and is large open building with a glass roof and a boardwalk leading past multiple feeding stations. The building that has aged well and remains fit for purpose. It was especially interesting seeing the hatchery on the way out, which exhibits various pupae.

    Butterfly House:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-15-56.jpeg

    The highlight of the precinct is the elephant complex. Totalling 2.5 hectares, the complex includes three interconnected paddocks, a bamboo forest, a village field and a community hall to replicate an Asian village. The complex opened in 2003 and at the time was considered the most modern and progressive elephant exhibit in the region. Two decades on, it’s will soon be dwarfed by the complexes at Werribee and Monarto, but was an excellent facility nonetheless.

    The matriarchal herd consists of five adults and three calves who were aged 10 months to 12 months on my visit. The bull, Luk Chai, lives separately from the cows. Crate training was in full swing and the elephants were enthusiastic participants. An elephant crossing allows the elephants to transfer between two of the paddocks, which regionally is a novel feature. The elephants were rotated between the paddocks and it was a thrill to see the two female calves, Aiyara and Kati, playing in the pool together. There’s countless black and white photos of young elephants at Auckland Zoo, Taronga Zoo etc. frolicking in pools/baths during the early 20th century; and I thought it poignant to consider how a century later, our young elephants are now captive born within multigenerational herds.

    The interior of Melbourne Zoo’s main elephant barn is viewable by the public, which is a great feature. I was intrigued to see the remnants of a graffiti dedicated to Num Oi and Sanook. Media releases following the births of Mali and Ongard in 2010 showed similar tags denoting Dokkoon and Malu’s stall; and Kulab and Ongard’s. I didn’t realise they did it three years later for Sanook.

    Elephant barn (interior):

    upload_2024-5-3_23-21-39.jpeg

    Elephant crossing:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-21-2.jpeg

    Elephant exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-20-33.jpeg

    Elephant exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-20-10.jpeg

    Kati (10 months):

    upload_2024-5-3_23-19-50.jpeg

    A rather non-descript exhibit for Bolivian squirrel monkeys followed; before the precinct concluded with the South East Asian Ape House. It’s a large building bordered by a Siamang exhibit on one side and an orangutan exhibit on the other. The orangutan exhibit reminded me a lot of Auckland Zoo’s 1987 exhibit, with the concrete walls (freshly painted ahead of my visit), grass terrain and climbing structures. The sway poles are an interesting feature I haven’t seen at any other zoo in the region. The zoo held a male Sumatran orangutan, Malu; and two hybrid females, Kiani and Gabby on my visit. Malu and Kiani spent a lot of time up by the viewing window and it was a privilege to see her before her death just weeks later.

    Orangutan exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-3_23-18-7.jpeg
     
  11. Abbey

    Abbey Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for your review. I've been enjoying reading it so far. I agree that the Melbourne exhibit (at least in your photos prior to the installation of the newer poles) looks a little outdated when compared to new complexes like Auckland's.
     
  12. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed Part 2 and are enjoying the review so far. There’s plenty more to come. Off to Lion Gorge (Carnivores precinct) next.

    Melbourne Zoo’s orangutan exhibit opened in 2006, so it’s not even that old. I remember thinking in the 2000’s that Auckland Zoo’s orangutan exhibit (1987-2017) still looked very modern - even though it was looking very tired by the mid-2010’s. With this in mind, perceptions change and exhibit standards are constantly evolving, so I think it’s perfectly reasonable that Melbourne would create in 2006 what I would assess as a improved version of Auckland Zoo’s 1987 exhibit. In addition to the open exhibit (1000m2), it has the mesh exhibit and a larger day room than what Auckland had.

    Fast forward to the 2020’s and Auckland Zoo have the most innovative complex in the region, with Melbourne and other zoos in the region now working to update their exhibits.
     
  13. Jambo

    Jambo Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    They haven't been split, they just tend to hang out across both enclosures from experience.

    This isn't a new thing too - they've had access to both for around a decade now; going back to when the first enclosure previously held Tree Kangaroo and Echidna.
     
  14. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Part Three: Lion Gorge

    Lion Gorge should be renamed the Carnivores Precinct. Aside from the fact it houses multiple species, Melbourne Zoo only have two lions. While they have a well presented exhibit, it’s a massive downgrade on Melbourne Zoo’s revered Lion Park, which housed a breeding pride. Two brothers, Zuberi and Ndiri, inhabit the exhibit and make for good display animals. They were unphased by the crowds and came right up to the glass on one of my visits. Being young cats, they’re active and make good use of the exhibit, which features raised platforms with ramps. The Lion House is a great addition to the complex, accomodating large crowds and offering indoor viewing.

    Male lions on platform:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-6-43.jpeg

    Ndidi:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-6-13.jpeg

    The Binturong exhibit was a massive anticlimax. Four visits and not once did I see a Binturong. I smelt popcorn at one point, but that’s the closest I got. It’s rare I say this, but the exhibit was twice as big as it needed to be; it would have been better suited to a more active species like the Brown-nosed coati that previously inhabited it.

    Binturong exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-8-31.jpeg

    The Snow leopard exhibits were stunning and exceeded all expectations. It’s great to see Melbourne Zoo dedicate two on display exhibits to this species, with their breeding pair (Kang Ju and Miska) held separately. I was lucky enough to get several great views of these majestic felids. On the fourth visit, it was blisteringly hot and the staff turned on a mist machine, which proved with a little innovation, this Himalayan native can thrive in a Victorian zoo.

    Female Snow leopard exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-9-16.jpeg

    Male Snow leopard exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-10-20.jpeg

    Kang Ju:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-11-31.jpeg

    Following on from the Snow leopard exhibit is the Sumatran tiger exhibit. Although I’ve visited a number of zoos with multiple tiger exhibits, it’s unusual to see them situated so far apart. This precinct houses the female tiger (Indrah) in a spacious, open exhibit. The best feature is the large body of water at the front of the exhibit and I was fortunate enough to see Indrah wading through it on one of the hotter days. She was equally active one morning on a rainy day and overall I found her to be a good display animal. The Snow leopards may have been the highlight of this precinct, but Indrah came a close second.

    Sumatran tiger exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-12-46.jpeg

    Indrah:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-12-27.jpeg

    The Tasmanian devils had well planted exhibits. I was intrigued to see the large water area and having seen Auckland’s wading in their stream, I can only imagine the use Melbourne’s devils must get out of this on a hot day. A rainy morning proved a good opportunity to get close up views of the devils. They were highly active compared to brighter days, which saw them take refuge from the sun under the shade of the logs.

    Tasmanian devil in the rain:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-13-16.jpeg

    The Dingo exhibit is fairly bland/non-descript and while I appreciate its no longer considered large enough to accomodate a pack of African wild dog (the Dingo’s predecessors), I feel the Dingo do little to enhance the precinct. The Dingo were asleep on most of my visits and public interest in them was low compared to the stars of the show (the big cats).

    Dingo exhibit:

    upload_2024-5-10_23-15-1.jpeg
     
  15. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

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    Thanks for another great set of photos and comments on a Melbourne Zoo precinct. How many different names has this area had? Lion Park, Predator Prey, Predators, Lion Gorge, etc. What happened to the African Wild Dogs and Philippine Crocodiles that were part of this zone less than 10 years ago? When did both species leave the zoo?
     
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  16. Jambo

    Jambo Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    It was initially the location of 'Lion Park'; with the big cat row, lemur islands and bear grotto also formerly on that space of land too.

    This new precinct was initially going to be titled predator/prey, but this was scrapped. The first stage of this precinct is 'Lion Gorge', and it was followed a few years later by 'Snow Leopard Ridge'. These two together now make up the 'Predators' precinct.

    The last male African Wild Dogs passed in 2022. Melbourne made the decision to discontinue with them. The last Philippine Crocodile in this precinct (Isabella) passed back in 2017. Melbourne still have a male in their Reptile House, but he's their only individual at the moment.
     
  17. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thank you @snowleopard, I’m glad you enjoyed Part Three. Wild Sea will follow next Friday. :)

    The precinct is listed as Lion Gorge according to their website, which lists the precincts/trails as:

    Gorilla Rainforest
    Trail of the Elephants
    Lion Gorge
    Wild Sea
    Australian Bush
    Growing Wild
    Main Trail

    Animals at Melbourne Zoo

    The Lion Gorge description confirms this title encompasses the entire precinct:

    Roar with big cats on our magnificent carnivores trail: Lion Gorge. Come face-to-face with some of our most impressive carnivores (and one or two omnivores), including Sumatran Tigers, African Lions, Snow Leopards, and the Reticulated Python. Compare toothy grins, and learn about their habitats and survival threats as you wander this leafy walkway.

    The above precinct names are the ones I’ll be using throughout this review; even though on ZooChat, most of us refer to the precinct as the Carnivores precinct for obvious reasons (even their write up acknowledges it’s a carnivores trail). My assumption is it was done to align with Gorilla Rainforest and Trail of the Elephants, which both feature their headlining species in the title (despite those precincts similarly featuring an array of species).
     
  18. The Sleepy Hippo

    The Sleepy Hippo Well-Known Member

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    It crosses my mind that in lieu of a new species taking the Dingos place, creating an aerial path between the Dingo exhibit and the Lion exhibit could allow for an additional bachelor, or a breeding pair, but I would then revert to previous stance and say that breeding pair of Asiatic Lion should inhabit these two enclosure.

    This would also give greater justification for the name Lion Gorge as visitors would be viewing the Lions at multiple locations around the precinct. The combining of exhibits could also go a little way towards making up for the loss of Lion Park.
     
    Last edited: 11 May 2024
  19. The Sleepy Hippo

    The Sleepy Hippo Well-Known Member

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    Again - LOVING your thorough review :D
     
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  20. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I think that’s a great idea. I assume the Dingo are primarily there as a representation of canids, otherwise it would be heavily felid based; but given the popularity of big cats, I don’t foresee anybody complaining. Despite its outdated appearance, Big Cat Alley was a highlight for many visitors and reviving it via this precinct (synched with the concept of the Lion Park) could only be a good thing imo.
    Thanks, I appreciate it. :)