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October 1995

What's New at the Zoo

Introducing the new and improved Hellabrunn!

This place is zoo!" you might say when referring to utter chaos, yet taking a closer look at the Münchner Tierpark Hellabrunn reveals no sign of disorder. Both terms, "zoological garden" and "Tierpark," reasonably blend words for fauna and flora, the lush foliage providing a tranquil backdrop for the animals. Hellabrunn is "geo-zoo," where animals are grouped according to geographic region, including botanical offerings of each area wherever feasible. In the last quarter century, the face of the Tierpark has changed markedly as the emphasis has shifted from the whims of humans to the needs of animals. Sprucing up existing enclosures and building new enclosures which simulate habitat climates continue with a plan and a purpose. THE LION'S DEN In the new predator house, lions, panthers, jaguars, cheetahs and coati are separated from each other and from visitors only by tempered glass. This miracle of modern construction earns a superlative description; costing just under DM 20 million, it is the most expensive and impressive enclosure in the history of Hellabrunn. Just opened in mid-September 1995, with floor space almost a third the size of a football field, it is covered by the first transparent membrane roof worldwide, which spans the enclosure like a giant spider web. Yet it is only 0.2 mm thick, held up by two pillars and 700 clamps and juncture points. As Erwin Kufner, financial director of the Tierpark explains, "We had to have a transparent roof to let in enough sunlight to grow tropical plants and lend a feeling of lightness to the place, so that the animals as well as the visitors carry inside an illusion of the outdoors, transforming a building into a region." A subtropical climate is provided by state-of-the-art heating, moisture and ventilation systems, ensuring jungle comfort for the big cats year round. Improving housing is just one part of the zoo's animal management. "Lots of space is not enough; the animals also need species-related features, like burrows or trees. But they need activity and stimuli, too," emphasizes Kufner. The new prey simulator, which is essentially a speed-controlled centrifugally spinning piece of meat on a wire, fulfills that purpose. "The cheetahs here have to chase down their dinner, just like in the wild. It's what they do," he says. "We try not to tame the animals," he continues. "Especially the carnivores are kept wild. You couldn't go into the lion's den," he warns. Then, with a devilish grin, he adds, "Well, I suppose you could go in-once-but you probably wouldn't come out again." THE "BEAR" FACTS In the early days of the Tierpark Hellabrunn, back in 1911, visitors voiced criticism that although the foliage was lush, the animal collection was sparse. The quaint shelters were a delight to look at, yet poorly adapted to animals' needs, unable to withstand especially cold weather conditions. Most were not heated, so in the winter the animals were gathered into one of the few heated buildings, such as the huge central elephant house, constructed in 1914. In the warmer months, the grazing sorts were all released into the same grassy meadow, resulting in a ubiquitous jumble of zebras, camels, gazelles, goats and ponies. A few "mixed" breeds, such as a cross between a donkey and zebra, or, among the predators, a lion and tiger, though popular with visitors, underlined the need for closer zoological supervision. Unfortunately, the zoo closed in 1923 due to financial difficulties; the animals were sold off and what was useable in the buildings was scavenged for materials still in short supply after World War I. THE "ROARING" TWENTIES Reorganization and creation of a new concept began almost immediately. Financing was secured, and the zoo re-opened in 1928 on a trial period with animals on loan from other zoos. This time, though, Hellabrunn was something of a sensation, the first geo-zoo in the world. Besides arranging animals geographically, the Tierpark turned away from displaying an unnatural "menagerie" collection-one of each kind of animal-still prevailing in other zoos of the day. Increasingly, visitors could view animals in more natural surroundings; troughs instead of fences separated enclosures from the public. Hellabrunn earned international recognition and respect through selective breeding attempts and concentrated efforts toward conservation of extinct or nearly extinct species. Innovative construction of the monkey house and aquarium were landmarks of contemporary zoo architecture. From 1929-1939, the zoo continued to grow, change, and attract visitors, despite financially hard times and the brewing war. During World War II, the zoo suffered a horrible slaughter of animals and destruction of buildings, but bravely opened its gates again in mid-1945. Many stalls were hurriedly rebuilt, looking much like military barracks-very modest, low, flat wooden buildings. A few large private donations enabled the modernization of some exhibits in the next two decades-including the establishment of a children's petting zoo-but a general concept was missing. With just some cosmetic patching and no real investment, the Tierpark's reputation was threatened, the buildings were deteriorating and public interest stagnating. The breakthrough occurred in the early '70s. With thousands of visitors coming to the 1972 Olympics, Munich was again inspired to offer the world a first-class Tierpark. The role and purpose of zoos had matured, from entertainment to education, from domestication to natural sanctuary, from collection to protection of endangered species. Animals needed suitable housing, and work began on modernizing virtually all of the exhibitions. It has been more than just a face-lift. Expansion and improvement of the zoo is an ongoing project, made possible through generous municipal grants, combined with careful budgeting. Zoo administration is nearly as multi-faceted as the variety of animals it houses. Yet what goes on backstage should be unobtrusive to the public, while the most difficult work looks easy or even goes unnoticed. In reviewing the history of the Tierpark, Kufner points out that the zoo-any zoo-is an evolving process, changing with the times, the needs and the reasons. A scale model already exists of the next project, an enclosure for tortoises, amphibians and possibly insects. "Bugs are easily overlooked. But the new insect exhibits in U.S. zoos are very popular," Kufner says. "I'd like to start one up here. Insects are completely missing from Hellabrunn." In an expansion of the geo-regions idea already partially realized in the predator house, a planned African continent exhibition will hold primates, camels, birds, reptiles and fish. While working out details for the new enclosures, Kufner and Prof. Wiesner, zoological head, visited leading U.S. zoos in August, where they exchanged ideas on features needed for keeping monkeys and apes happy. Primates' intelligence makes them difficult animals to hold; they're easily bored. Yet through playing with them and teaching them, they become domesticated and then are often rejected by others of their kind. Hellabrunn already spices up feeding time, for example, by hiding food or putting it in vials which have to be opened. New findings in animal breeding or behavior are incorporated in designing the architecture and interior of enclosures. When planning has reached the last stages, the animal keepers, who carry out daily care and feeding of the animals, give the final seal of approval. Their suggestions contribute to animal welfare as well as to improving working conditions. A further highlight in the Tierpark is the now world-famous aviary enclosure which did away completely with bird cages. In the spacious net-like tent, you can watch the breeding and nesting habits of a colorful assortment of some 200 feathered fowl first-hand. In one wing of the more traditional bird house nearby, you experience the thrilling "Villa Dracula," where bats fly freely just above visitors' heads, though some people do hunker down to about the size of four-year-olds when the winged Fledermäuse whir about in the cavern-like structure. TWO BY TWO A balance of zoological and public interest determines which animals reside in the Tierpark. Among the more than 400 different breeds-approximately 5,000 animals-that roam, fly, swim or crawl in the zoo are exotic and rare mammals, birds or reptiles. Hellabrunn is internationally known as a top breeder of endangered species and breeding in captivity. Says Kufner, "We've learned a lot. International databases are in the making for keeping track of all the zoo animals in the world, and also for insuring the right gene pools for breeding." Last year alone, 134 mammals, 81 birds and 27 reptiles were born there, significant because bearing young indicates an animal adaptation to its environment. Zoos rarely capture animals in the wild nowadays; Hellabrunn's animals are 100 percent offspring of zoo inhabitants. With the destruction of natural habitats, species preservation has become vital. The Munich zoo is home to Mongolian Przewalski wild horses and Mhorr gazelles, species which had been reduced to a few captive animals, but have now been re-established in wildlife preserves. In his book Last Animals at the Zoo, Colin Tudge sees zoos as a modern day Noah's Ark, essential for saving animals for future generations. Zoologist and director of the Cologne Zoo, Prof. Gunther Nogge, goes one step further in the book's introduction, "If zoos didn't already exist, it would be time to create them." PUSHY "KIDS" Perhaps it's our curiosity that urges us to seek close contact with wild things, to see them as living beings and not just as flat pictures in books, or even as multimedia images in computers. We want to watch them eat, hear them roar, grunt, squeak, to see them gallop, ramble, flutter. We giggle at the monkey's silly antics, or gawk openly at the great size of some beasts. For a more hands-on approach, in the children's zoo even the smallest kids can pet and feed the-sometimes rather pushy-sheep, goats and deer, ride horses, frolic at the playgrounds or enjoy a few amusement park rides. On Easter, the zoo hosts a popular Easter Egg Hunt and on Pfingsten, the public can search for chocolate Maikäfer beetles. Birthdays or other get-togethers may be celebrated in the zoo restaurant. Senior citizen groups can receive tours at reduced admission, combined with cake and coffee at the cafeteria Friday afternoons. General group tours are carried out daily and, with advanced booking, a night visit offers a behind-the-scenes peek. The zoo is for learning as well as looking-some 3,000 school classes annually go to the Tierpark on field trips. Additionally, in instructional classes at its own "zoo school," Hellabrunn offers one-day courses up to University level where children and youth learn about zoology, animal care, and the pressing issues of conservation and wildlife management. Over 1.35 million people visited Tierpark Hellabrunn in 1994, a statistical average of one trip to the zoo by every Munich resident. So, now it's your turn. When are you going to see what's new at the zoo? Münchner Tierpark Hellabrunn AG: Tierparkstraße 30, 81543 München. For information and tour booking, call 62 50 11 or 62 50 834. Open year round October-March 9:00-17:00; April-September 8:00-18:00. Take Bus 52 from Marienplatz or U3 to Thalkirchen. Limited parking is available.

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