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Tallinn Zoo Review of Tallinn Zoo

Discussion in 'Estonia' started by Shirokuma, 25 Mar 2013.

  1. Shirokuma

    Shirokuma Well-Known Member

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    Review of Tallinn Zoo

    Tallinn Zoo has been on its current site since 1983. It was established in 1939 following the victory in 1937 of the Estonian national shooting team in the world championships which took place in Finland. For some reason, along with a trophy they were presented with a baby lynx. The lynx is now Tallinn Zoo's symbol.

    Entrance is a very reasonable €3.20. It's quite a big zoo but there is a great deal of woodland and open space. I arrived at about 09:30 and left at around 13:00. Many people were arriving as I left so for much of my visit had the place to myself.

    Tallinn Zoo is a place of contrasts. The newer enclosures and large paddocks are of an excellent standard. However some of the older enclosures, which are being phased out, are rather depressing.

    An up to date map can be seen here

    The first enclosure you see is an enormous paddock for Père David's deer. This is, I'm fairly sure, the largest enclosure in the zoo.

    Walking along, on your left hand side are netted aviaries for demoiselle cranes and Siberian cranes. Sadly neither were visible but I spotted the outline of a Siberian crane in its shed.

    Turning left is a small complex of glass-fronted aviary style enclosures for lynx, the zoo's symbol. There are three linked enclosures and whilst they are of an acceptable standard I would love it if they could get a large wooded open enclosure at some point in the future. There is certainly space for it.

    This part of the zoo houses the large collection of birds of prey. They are all in fairly standard aviaries and the owl enclosures are glass-fronted. There is also a glass-fronted indoor enclosure for Egyptian vultures. A nice touch was a wooden shelter with lots of signage, wing span comparisons and screens showing live footage of nesting birds.

    Signage throughout the zoo is excellent in Estonian, Russian, English and sometimes Finnish. There are also many attractive and creatively designed viewing shelters.

    Species from memory include:

    Barn owl, tawny owl, Eurasian eagle owl, snowy owl, northern hawk owl, Ural owl, great grey owl, griffon vulture, lammergeier, golden eagle, eastern imperial eagle, sea eagle.

    Going back down to the entrance path brings you to the central part of the zoo. It struck me that it felt rather like a military camp with smallish sheds and larger barrack like wooden buildings with cages or pens along their sides. I later found out that when the zoo moved to this area in 1983 they took over a former military instillation. Moscow had imposed a ban on construction projects following the 1980 Olympics (Tallinn hosted the sailing events) so they had to make do and mend with no significant building taking place until the end of the 1980s.

    There are a few areas with empty cages or closed off rows of cages which can only be a good thing as they are very old fashioned.

    One row still in use has small pens for wild boar, Barbary sheep, east Caucasian tur, Tajik urial and mishmi takin. Most of the goats and sheep have actually been moved to a very good complex on the other side of the zoo and a sign says that these animals are also due to move, in their case to other collections.

    Alongside these pens is a long shed with pens for axis deer, red river hog, kudu and other 'exotic' ungulates. None were on display and I wonder how much of the winter is spent indoors for them. The other side has domestic goats and Vietnamese pot bellied pigs.

    Nearby is a rather small pool for Baltic grey seals. It's not very good, small and squarish with no obviously accessible land area.

    The next row of enclosures feature glass fronted cages for primates. None were visible and there is no inside viewing. They were fairly basic with limited furnishings. The only species I remember are patas and grivet monkey. There is also a row of very small, rusty cages which are now empty apart from one which houses - I hope temporarily - a single lynx.

    The other side of this building has Asiatic lion in two newly built enclosures of average size with glass viewing windows and an attractive wooden converted viewing area which also looks out onto an open enclosure for Siberian cranes. A plaque notes the fundraising efforts of students at the international school in Tallinn for the construction of the lion enclosure. Along the same side of the building is an incredibly tiny cage labeled Persian leopard but with no visible occupants and a fishing cat cage. At the end is a cage for Japanese macaque. This is another species which would benefit from a change of enclosure.

    The zoo has a small group of (I think) older chimpanzees. Their outside island is adequate if nothing special but they spend the winter months inside where there is very limited accommodation. The tropical building consists of two parts. The right hand side wing as seen from the map houses the chimps in a glass-fronted enclosure. There is a good deal of tropical foliage. An enormous salt water crocodile is seen in an enclosure more suited to small crocodilians or turtles.

    There is also an enclosure for Chinese alligator, I think some kind of caiman and various fish tanks.

    The other part is accessed separately and consists of a corridor with indoor enclosures linking to outside aviary-style cages on one side and several fish tanks and vivaria. The enclosures house sand cat, meerkats with little opportunity for digging, marmosets and channel-billed toucan and green iguana. These last three enclosures are probably the best in this building. I should add that I didn't linger here as the smell was terrible.

    Continuing outside are attractive wooded paddocks for cranes, alpaca and guanaco. There are also some aviaries set back from the path which here takes the form of a wooden boardwalk - much nicer to walk on than the icy paths. I think the takin would look great here by the way.

    Next is a real juxtaposition of the best and worst Tallinn Zoo has to offer.

    To the right is the Amur leopard enclosure. It's a spacious mesh tent roofed enclosure and whilst perhaps some more interesting landscaping might enrich it, it is a good and attractive exhibit. The surrounding birch trees compliment it.

    To the left is the carnivore shed. Here are Amur tiger, striped hyena, American black bear, puma and polar bear. The polar bear cages are particularly upsetting. There are also enclosures for raccoon and mink. A sign notes that funds are being raised for new enclosures. Signs also invite visitors to donate via SMS and there are appeal collection boxes for a new polar bear enclosure in various locations around Tallinn.

    They are hoping to raise €4 million for the new project. I have no idea how this is progressing.

    Next is the musk ox paddock - they hold Greenland musk oxen but sadly I didn't see any.

    This is located next to an exhibit about which I have mixed feelings. This is the Africa building which is undergoing redevelopment. I think I would actually prefer them to stop keeping the African elephants, pygmy hippo and - currently absent - black rhino. There is also a selection of pet shop style vivaria.

    A nice touch is the planted stand off area with tortoises next to the elephants. The two African elephants came to the zoo from
    South Africa via the Netherlands and Brest Zoo in Belarus in 1988. At first they were kept in the ungulate sheds but were walked to their present accommodation in 1989.

    The next area is a short walk away past (frozen and snowed over on my visit) wildfowl ponds.

    As has been mentioned, Tallinn Zoo has a world class collection of goats and sheep. The bulk of their collection is housed in a complex of mostly high fenced paddocks with glass-fronted, turf-roofed viewing shelters. There is also a spacious open-topped enclosure for snow leopards with viewing shelters at opposite ends. I sat in one of these and had lunch (I recommend taking your own. If you are coming from central Tallinn try the supermarket in the Solaris centre basement - they do excellent wraps and salads).

    Species include: transcaspian and Tajik urial, Chinese blue sheep, Dalls sheep - interestingly labeled thin horn sheep which I haven't heard before, western and eastern Caucasian tur, Tajik markhor, Cretan wild goat, Nubian and Siberian ibex.

    There is then a long stretch of path along the frozen ponds past some woods which I think would be a great spot for Amur tiger.

    Eventually you come to wisent and American bison. The paddocks are huge and there appeared to be multiple sections. On the other side is a section of three or four small aviary style enclosures for Amur cat with a covered wooden walkway. Unfortunately I didn't see one.

    Next to the bison is a nice paddock for Bactrian camel across from kulan in a large paddock and Bactrian wapiti who have a smaller yard.

    There is an L shaped row of aviaries constructed out of wood and whilst pleasant it has a rather municipal park feel to it. Various pheasants, crows and finches are housed here and most interesting for me was Cabot's tragopan - although I only saw a female.

    There are two large netted crane aviaries for white-naped and red-crowned cranes and spacious paddocks for domestic yak and Przewalski's wild horse across from a basic but large enclosure for Bennett's wallaby.

    Striped hyena have a new enclosure with two yards and sheltered viewing built into an earth bank. Like most of the zoo, the signage here is excellent.

    This brings you back to the wildfowl ponds. One of them is left ice free over the winter with a nice viewing shelter for human visitors. There is a shed with attached netted aviary runs where it looks like exotic wildfowl and pelicans spend the winter.

    I think Tallinn Zoo is well worth a visit. I could have stayed longer but it was extremely cold and I was quite tired. As a visitor you just have to remind yourself that this is a zoo in transition.

    Photos will follow soon.
     
    Last edited: 25 Mar 2013
  2. dublinlion

    dublinlion Well-Known Member

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    Great review. They certainly have lots of goat and sheep species. The only surprise for me was that you managed to see so much in only 3 hours or so. Any biggish zoo I visit such as Chester, London or Berlin takes me the full day and even then I rarely get to see everything and usually would need 2 full days.
     
  3. Shirokuma

    Shirokuma Well-Known Member

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    Thanks. The cold kept me moving and after a while I was quite tired. You could easily spend a full day there if you lingered at the enclosures and saw everything.
     
  4. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Your review makes it sound like absolutely nothing has changed since my visit last January. Which is sad, as there are a lot of urgent works required. Although perhaps the Elephant House renovations have progressed a bit. The signs saying the "surplus" sheep and goats will be moved to other zoos were there last year, and I didn't see the "tropical" ungulates either. I didn't realise that the zoo was a military camp, but those old rows must certainly be remnants of that.

    I disagree that Tallinn shouldn't keep elephants, rhinos and pygmy hippos, the new house should be suitable for them (although perhaps just "adequate" for the elephants), and many other northern zoos keep these species. Pygmy Hippos especially are often kept indoors in winter and outdoors (or both) in summer, and Tallinn could definitely cater for them.

    In the old carnivore cages, did you see all the species you listed? I saw signs for all those, but didn't see all of them in there and was under the iimpression that some had been moved out.

    What do you mean when you say the pheasant aviaries had a "municipal park feel"? I thought these were one of the zoo's highlights.

    It was very sensible to take your lunch with you, I wish we had. When we visited we had only two mandarins and a bottle of coke, not nearly enough in freezing conditions with nowhere open to purchase food at.
     
  5. Shirokuma

    Shirokuma Well-Known Member

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    In terms of welfare it's more the elephants I'm concerned about. But actually it's more a question of resources that concerns me. It costs a lot to heat a building like that and elephants in particular need an enormous amount of food.

    As finances are clearly an issue I'd rather a zoo like this invested on facilities for animals which can be outside all year round like Amur tigers and polar bears. I think it would be good for them to focus more on species like these which could do very well and there is certainly space.

    I saw everything except for American black bear in the carnivore cages.

    Regarding the aviaries, I just meant the design, that's what it reminded me of.

    I think it's understandable that not much has changed since January last year. Up until 2007 there was much investment and economic growth. But the economic crisis really hit Estonia and many construction projects in particular stalled or were cancelled completely.

    Fortunately there is reason for optimism as the economy picks up so hopefully more improvements will be made before long.
     
  6. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Well I guess I agree that focussing on northern species (like nearby Helsinki Zoo does) would be sensible, but I do think that it is possible to keep elephants, etc, in Tallinn, assuming of course that the zoo can afford appropriate facilities, feed, etc.

    When I saw the old carnivore cages I was disgusted, but many appeared empty, and I though some species, e.g. the striped hyena, had moved into new exhibits or gone elsewhere. Clearly some of the hyenas didn't go into the new enclosure, which isn't ideal.

    I hope the economy does pick up soon, and new enclosures for the big carnivores can be constructed.
     
  7. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    I'm thinking about getting the ferry to Tallinn from Helsinki next week to visit the zoo. Your review makes me think it's worth it. My only reserve is how many warm climate species are still off show in March?
    If I do go I'll be sure to update you on improvements.
     
  8. Shirokuma

    Shirokuma Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure what the current situation is but when I went most animals were on display apart from those mentioned in my review. Anyway, its strengths are all on display in the winter: the sheep and goats, leopards, snow leopards, birds of prey, bison, camels etc. So its definitely worth a visit in my view.
     
  9. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    I visited yesterday. Spent a rushed afternoon there. I thought I would just mention the changes since Shirokuma's visit and then give my own impressions.
    Changes:
    Very few :( This is distressing because those who have visited know how desperately improvements are needed.
    The eagles are all off show due to it being hatching season. I in no way criticise this decision but it was personally disappointing.
    Cranes of various varieties were scattered around the zoo and I thought were a strong point of the collection. Lots of enclosures of Siberian Cranes.
    In the barracks section there were lots of sheep and goats visible in a shut off area. There is STILL a sign saying these animals are to be moved to other collections.
    The single lynx is still in the barracks.
    Persian Leopard is gone.
    Maned wolves have joined the collection next to the guanaco, in a sizeable paddock that probably held the alpaca previously. Didn't see them though.
    Only one polar bear out and he was asleep so I thankfully didn't see him moving in such a small space. His water bath was empty for medical reasons.
    Hyena has moved out, but replaced with a single snow leopard. American Black Bear and Puma still in residence but not out. Tallinn has lots of enclosures with signs saying off display so I'm sure these are still here as there were no such signs.
    Amur Tiger has an expanded space compared to the rest of this row but its nowhere near enough.
    Black Rhino now in residence.
    Cretan Wild Goats off display. Otherwise all the hoofstock was excellent. Seeing European and American Bison in adjacent paddocks was my highlight.
    There is a HUGE new education/conference/office building by the West Entrance.

    Impressions.
    What everyone has said. Good and bad. At its best Tallinn feels a lot like Whipsnade, at its worst it is 100 years out of date. It deserves a lot of criticsm. There are enough acceptable and above enclosures to sustain the zoo without using the worst barracks cages. It may be hard to find new homes for these animals but almost nothing has changed since Shirokuma's visit.
    What I found most distressing was not the polar bears that need £4 million worth of improvements but the monkeys that need just a couple of thousand. It seems like the two halves of the collection have different management. Maybe they just don't want to throw good money after bad but there are severe animal welfare issues that are not being addressed here.
    This is a collection worth visiting and in 20 years it may well be very good. Right now not so much.

    As an afterthought I would not recommend visiting at this time of year. I know others have had a different experience, but I think a good third of the zoo was off show yesterday.