Wellington Zoo Review: I visited Wellington Zoo over the weekend and have decided to give it a review. It was my fourth visit to the zoo and my first in about 12 months. While this review won’t have the benefit of being a first impression; I believe previous visits will give it an advantage in being able to compare and contrast to this visit. The entrance was clean and well presented. There wasn’t a lot of room with everyone funnelled down a corridor, but having two tills open, meant I was served quickly. The lady serving was efficient and friendly and pointed out some of the highlights for visitors - new births, talk times etc. I thought the admission price was fair compared to other facilities. Students in particular get a good deal ($20). Upon entering the zoo, you come to two exhibits housing Asian small clawed otter and Capybara. The otter has a smallish exhibit which is enhanced by a viewing window. It was nowhere in sight and I didn’t spend too long looking for it. The capybara herd which includes seven pups were a highlight. The volunteer didn’t know if they had names yet, which was disappointing; but I enjoyed seeing such a large litter and observing how fast they’d grown. There were three adults also in sight. The tiger talk was due to start in ten minutes so I high tailed it past the gibbon, capuchin and spider monkeys (having a brief look at them on the way). I’d hoped the talk would also encorporate a feed or enrichment activity for the tiger (the best time to see it) but it was just a talk. The male, Bashii, was in the main exhibit and appeared briefly before disappearing into a den. He never returned during the talk. The talk was given by a ‘ranger’, who pointed out he was not a zoo keeper. While he had some interesting facts about tigers in the wild, he couldn’t answer specific questions about the tigers at the zoo (which was what I was wanting to ask about). I was surprised to read on the website that the female, Senja, typically occupies the larger exhibit. This struck me as strange since male tigers require a larger territory and the male was hand raised (along with his siblings) so would probably be more comfortable in this exhibit (compared to the smaller exhibit which is essentially off display). Senja was indeed on display in the larger exhibit on my last visit but this time, Bashii was in the larger exhibit and Senja was nowhere to be seen. They’ve spent the last year introducing them for breeding so perhaps she is pregnant (or recently given birth) and requires the privacy? I got an excellent view of the female Malayan sun bear (which I didn’t see on my last visit). She was highly active, patrolling the exhibit and I enjoyed seeing the only (and possibly the last) sun bear in New Zealand. Before moving on to other things, I doubled back and took a moment to appreciate the architecture of the old sun bear exhibit, complete with the remanants of an old bear pit, overgrown with vegetation. I always enjoy seeing remnants of history in older zoos; whether they are preserved as a heritage site/building or repurposed (as I hope this bear pit will be soon for snow leopards). My next stop was the first of three visits to the chimpanzee exhibit. They are my favourite species at the zoo and I like to visit three times throughout the day as they are often doing different things. On the way, I stopped to look at the red panda area, which has Buddhist temple theme at the entrance and aviaries for Himalayan monal etc. The red panda exhibit is split in two (with the male on one side; ad the female and their son on the other). They had a decent sized exhibit. It should also be noted that this would have been the logical time to visit Hero HQ (especially since there was nobody there), but I was too focussed on getting to the chimps. This was my first visit to the chimpanzee park following the redevelopment and while I was impressed with the interior (extra climbing structures for the chimps); the exterior was a let down. The revamp cleared a huge area (and demolished a historic chimpanzee night house) to build a relatively lame playground no kid was using (despite the zoo being full of kids). There was also an additional viewing window, but as I predicted, none of the chimps were down by it as there is nothing of interest to them in that part of the exhibit. In my opinion, they would have been better off using the space for extending the exhibit significantly; using it to build an exhibit for a small animal of African origin to compliment the chimpanzee exhibit; or even leaving things as they were (and saving themselves money). The chimpanzee exhibit itself is an impressive and stimulating environment for one of the region’s largest chimpanzee troops. The zoo has 10 chimps (2 adult males, 5 adult females, 1 adolescent female and 2 juvenile males) and there is always something going on. The chimpanzee night house is also visible to visitors and accessible to the chimps throughout the day. What I like about the chimpanzee exhibit at Wellington is that you can see the chimps at eye level. Hamilton Zoo have a larger exhibit, but much of the outside space can only be viewed from above. Next up was the meerkat and porcupine exhibit. The meerkat were highly active and it was interesting to see a large mob of all ages. The porcupine, being nocturnal, were asleep in the burrow, but could be seen through the viewing window. I walked ‘backwards’ through the Australian section (I usually enter through the Hamadryas baboon side) and was unable to see several animals. No dingo, no kangaroo etc...There was an emu laying down that looked exhausted from the heat, and a couple of wallabies. This section features an exhibit designed like a tool shed for Australian lizards, but a sign said the exhibit was currently unoccupied. The highlight was seeing a Tasmanian devil up close. It was in a nesting box right near the wall and woke up when somebody saw it and everyone within 50 metres stampeded in it’s direction. The Hamadryas baboon enclosure is an impressive one, built close to 20 years ago it is still remains one of their best. While the exhibit itself is rather bare, the space (suitable for a troop of up to 30) seems immense for their troop, which has sadly been reduced to a handful of males. The website promises seven males, but I never see more than five on my visits. The dominant males, with their impressive silvery flowing capes, came right up to the viewing window and I made the most of viewing this species, which is due to be phased out in the future. The caracals were highly active and I was about to head over to see them, when I realised the giraffe talk was in progress. The boardwalk was packed with people and I managed to weave my way towards the front when I heard there was a limited amount of browse the visitors could feed them. The keeper spoke briefly about the giraffe at the zoo, but seemed to lose people’s interest when he diverted to issues affecting wild giraffe. Every time he mentioned the limited browse, the crowd edged forward. Finally, the browse was handed out and I joined half the zoo in offering Zahara a branch; while Zuri kept a distance from the crowds. The savannah exhibit, which also contains Nyala, Ostrich and Guinea fowl is small compared to Hamilton Zoo etc. but with just two female giraffe is an acceptable size and a vast improvement on the previous exhibit, which appears cramped and bare by comparison (photos are in the galleries). You can also walk through the giraffe night house, which is interesting. The chimpanzee talk was due to start in 15 minutes, and I wanted a decent seat so I raced back down the path, ignoring all distractions. The seating area was soon packed (the giraffe talk had just kicked out) and it was standing room only for late arrivals. The ranger who didn’t know much about the tigers did the talk, but was significantly more knowledgeable on the chimps and knew them all by name, pointing out individuals to the visitors and telling us interesting facts. Unfortunately the chimps had recently been fed, so had little interest in the food being thrown over. I spent more time after the talk watching the chimps, who were mostly all outside now. After the chimp talk, I went to view the African cats I had missed. The cheetahs have a modern exhibit similar in size to Auckland Zoo’s. It was split in two, with the cheetah occupying one half. I like the lion exhibit, while it’s not huge; the dens are disguised as a kopje on the visitor side and the lionesses especially love to lounge on it. With the recent departure of the male pride, three females remain but I only saw one. The small African cats occupy a double exhibit, which house Caracal on one side; Serval on the other. The caracal were asleep in their box; while the serval were unseen. Their exhibits opened 2014 and still have a clean, modern feel to them. I then walked back up to the Asian precinct and got an excellent view of the male tiger, but the sun bear was not in sight. I walked quickly through the Kea aviary, and joined a group of people apparaently intent on exceeding the maximum occupancy of the three door annex by 150%. I didn’t see the native lizards or frogs when I looked. The farmyard wasn’t of great interest to me so I breezed through quickly, though was at least able to see everything. The penguins were not visible on the other end. I had another look at the South American monkeys and the gibbons I had missed the first time around. The small monkeys were all highly active and I got a great view of the Golden lion tamarin. Their exhibits feature a South American explorers theme which compliments the exhibit, without overshadowing it. The Kiwi house was a highlight on my last visit, with the kiwi coming within touching distance. Likely due to the noise and volume of people, the kiwi was invisible on this visit. I wrapped up my visit with one last look at the chimpanzee, stopping at the Ruffed lemur on the way. Their exhibit is small, but offers excellent views of them. I paused to admire the architectural remnants of the old elephant house and to look in at the vet hospital. The viewing window gives you an insight into the procedures being carried out that day and when something is happening, it can be quite interesting. On the day, they were examining a lizard. Final Thoughts: For a small zoo, I’d rate Wellington Zoo very highly. The exhibits are mostly modern and all are well maintained and stimulating for the animals. The zoo has a rich history, historical highlights being the old sun bear pit (an original zoo exhibit of over 110 years old); the structural remnants of the old elephant house; and Jessie the chimpanzee, who was born in the 1970s and was one of the last offspring of Yoka (original tea party chimpanzee). The zoo doesn’t have a large aviary (or an extensive bird collection), but if you prefer mammals like me; you probably won’t even notice. They have a decent collection of large mammals as outlined in this review. Whenever I speak to staff members or volunteers of a zoo, they always say this about visitors: the most popular question is - what’s that animals name? The least popular topic for the majority of visitors appears to be the underlying conservation message the zoo is trying to get through. This was evident in the talks, visitors listened with interest how the alpha male chimp is named Alexis and how he loves the younger chimps; they largely switched off when staff spoke about deforestation or poaching. Wellington Zoo provides the visitors with signs at exhibits for species like the African lion, Chimpanzee and Giraffe, which tell you the animal’s name and a bit about it (it’s personality, how to distinguish it from the others). It’s easy to see why this information appeals to visitors. When I visit a chimpanzee etc. I think to myself that’s the son/daughter of...; he/she is born in...; he/she has a personality very similar to his/her mother who lives at the...zoo. My point is, I appreciate the animal on a holistic level and get more out of seeing it, than I would seeing a random chimp at a zoo outside the region who I knew nothing about. While I’d love to see information of this detail on a zoo sign, what the Wellington Zoo provide on their signs is a happy medium and enough for the average visitor. Even young kids seem to enjoy hearing “That’s a chimp called Cara.” Rather than “That’s a chimp,” or (shudder) “That’s a big monkey.” As much as I like chimps being given names of African origin, it’s also clear from social media etc. visitors get a kick out of some of the chimps having human names (especially if the name is the same as there’s, or that of a relative). While human names humanise chimps; is such anthropomorphism really so bad if it heightens the visitors compassion for and interest in the animal? Finally, the most important lesson of my visit was an obvious one. If you don’t see something first time, go back at a different time of day. I had a limited view of the tiger on my first visit, but an excellent view on my second; the caracals were active on my first visit, but asleep on the second. Some species, like the native lizards, I didn’t mind if I didn’t see first time around, but for those I wanted to see - I made sure to go back.