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Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón (Aragon Zoo)

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This critique last updated:  Feb 2008

Visitor Reviews

This review written by Ken Kawata and reprinted by Kind Permission of International Zoo News

Mexico has a rich history of zoos dating back centuries (e.g. Rybot, 1972), a tradition which is still maintained today. In July 1998 I was fortunate enough to be sent to Durango, to attend a bi-national Mexican wolf conference. The Mexican host recommended that U.S. delegates first arrive at Mexico City and tour both city zoos, before transferring to Durango. Most of us took the suggestion and visited zoos on 20 July, which happened to be a Monday, the day both zoos are closed to the public. This meant that we had the zoos all to ourselves, and did not face the huge crowds that they are well-known for. Zoo directors, Dr David Mayén Mena of Zoológico de Chapultepec (Chapultepec), and Dr Juan Carlos Ortega Saez of Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón (Aragón), and their staff were hospitable, giving us tours and making arrangements to transfer us between the airport and zoos.

The group first visited Aragón, which is an eight-minute drive from the Benito Juarez International Airport, on the opposite side of Chapultepec Park. The younger of the two zoos, Aragón was constructed within a matter of four months, and opened to the public in 1964 in a 37-hectare lot, about 60 per cent of which has thus far been developed for animal exhibits. The grounds give an impression of a zoo in a eucalyptus grove. The annual attendance of this zoo is two million; on the day before our visit, a Sunday, it had 30,000 visitors. In spite of heavy public visitation on the previous day, at 10.30 a.m. the grounds were spotlessly clean.

The definite impression is that the zoo has a great deal of potential for future development. Just like other growing zoos, Aragón presents a combination of old-style `cages' and a more open, spacious and naturalistic exhibit system. The former is represented by primate exhibits, consisting of `hard' metal barriers, coupled with concrete walls and floors. Also in this category are medium- to small-sized mammal facilities, concrete structures with moated exhibits radiating out from the off-scene areas and night quarters. Some bird exhibits are also represented by wire mesh `runs', a series of small exhibit units in a row. Changes are being made, however, across the zoo. In some sterile mammal exhibits, concrete floors have been broken up, replaced with soil and live plants, with an addition of furniture, such as logs and pools. Also evident was an introduction of much larger living spaces for animals. Huge, grass-covered moated enclosures have been built for bears and spider monkeys.

The newer exhibit concept was also noted in hoofed stock paddocks. Some are quite large and moated. Also noticeable was the world-wide practice in zoos of providing a generous space for more popular, crowd-pleasing mammals, such as lions, tigers, hippopotami and elephants. The sea lion pool was also huge for a small number of animals. Another tendency was the large number of domesticated stock, both in terms of species and specimens. For example I counted roughly 20 llama in one pen, and there were more pens for them. On the wildlife conservation front, the Aragón lineage, one of the three lineages in the population of Mexican wolves (Kawata, 1997), originated in the two zoos in Mexico City. The U.S. delegates paid close attention to the off-scene husbandry facility in Aragón, and we found it superior to many counterparts in U.S. institutions. Overall, animals appeared in good health, and graphics depict basic information on the natural history of the species.

After two hours of the tour covering about 70 per cent of the zoo, we realized that time was running out. Director Dr Ortega assured us that the collection in the remaining part of the zoo consisted of ordinary hoofed stock, such as nilgai and llama. Since more foreign zoo colleagues probably visit Chapultepec, a well-established institution, I will try to highlight the species that I saw on exhibit at Aragón, excluding domestic species. These, however, represent a partial list and by no means constitute the zoo's complete animal inventory; the zoo was closed, some animals were in holding areas (such as the 0.2 Asian elephants that I was told the zoo had) or in night quarters, and besides, I may have missed a few species.

Three spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi — dark), 2 pig-tailed macaque, 1 rhesus macaque, 10+ hamadryas baboon, 1 vervet monkey, 11 patas monkey (breeding group), 2.0 chimpanzee, 1 Patagonian cavy, 11 Mexican wolf, 3 coyote (dark), 6 grey fox, 7 raccoon, 4 coati, 1.1 jaguarundi (the male was large and dark, while the female, a former household pet, was small and brown), 4 puma, 2 bobcat, 1 leopard, 1 tiger, 1.1 lion, 2 California sea lion, 1.2 white rhinoceros (0.1 was born here), 5 (?) hippopotamus, a herd of fallow deer, 1.1 sika deer (dark), 1.0 wapiti, 1.1.1 giraffe, 1.4 nilgai, 1.0 bison, 3.8 waterbuck, 5 brindled gnu, a herd of aoudad, 1.0 Andean condor, 7 red-tailed hawk, 5 Harris' hawk, 1 golden eagle, 6 caracara, 2 collared forest falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus — my first), silver pheasant, purple gallinule, American coot, a group of white-winged dove, 1 barn owl, 4 great horned owl, a breeding pair of burrowing owl, a group of conures, 4 crow, an assortment of turtles, 3 Morelet's crocodile.

Visitor Reviews (2)

This review written by Richard Weigl and reprinted by Kind Permission of International Zoo News

Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón, Mexico City

The San Juan de Aragón Zoo, which opened on 20 November 1962, now looks very old, rather as Chapultepec did before its total remodelling. Aragón is also to be remodelled in the very near future, and will soon be closed to the public. Of its total area of 36.5 hectares, about 16 ha is developed as a zoo. In 1998 it had about 1.8 million visitors. The Director since February 1998, Dr Juan Carlos Ortega Saez, previously worked at a private veterinary practice and in the statistical department of the health bureau. Earlier the two zoos, Chapultepec and Aragón, shared a single director who devoted most of her attention to Chapultepec. About 1,070 specimens of 129 species of mammal, bird and reptile are kept mostly in very simple enclosures. Dr Patricia Reyes, a veterinarian at Aragón since 1990 and previously at Chapultepec from 1977 to 1989, was very friendly and showed me round.

There were some simple exhibits for two adult male chimpanzees from a circus, a old female savanna monkey, many black-nosed patas monkeys and hamadryas baboons, a male rhesus and two female pigtail macaques, jaguarundis and an island group of black-handed spider monkeys. There were two large enclosures with pools for hippos, and a natural woodland enclosure for Mexican wolves (in March 1998 two families from the zoo were released in New Mexico, U.S.A.). Other mammals I saw included coatis, raccoons, a male mara, ocelots, a group of five kinkajous (active in the daytime), jaguars, leopards, coyotes, bobcats, pumas, lions, tigers and 1.2 American black bears. Two large circular ponds held flamingos, one great blue heron, ducks and Egyptian geese with nine week-old goslings. In aviaries were many species of amazons, macaws and conures, two emerald toucanets (Aulacorhynchus prasinus), two keel-billed toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus) and one hill mynah, while on the ground were tortoises, including the rare desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).

The bird of prey aviary had a male Andean condor, two king vultures, two golden eagles, one collared forest falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus — a first for me), red-tailed and roadside hawks and caracaras. In a pool were two female Californian sea lions. There were several large, simple enclosures for two emus from Chapultepec, a male American bison, a lot of llamas (and some hybrids), many collared peccaries and a female white-lipped peccary, 1.2 white rhinos, three male giraffes (a father and his sons), two female Asian elephants (Chacha and Ciba, about 35 to 40 years old, both from a Mexican circus, where Ciba had killed a trainer), many white fallow, white-tailed and sika deer, an old pair of American wapiti, defassa waterbuck, brindled gnus, nilgai, a female yak, aoudads, and two male Mexican porcupines. A small pool housed three Morelet's crocodiles and many turtles. As in Lima, I saw wild hummingbirds. Finally, in the quarantine area were many, mostly old, animals, including a polecat, a very old female rhesus macaque and a pair of hamadryas baboons, the founders of the zoo's colony


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