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Zoológico de Chapultepec

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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

Soon we were off to Chapultepec Park, a large park some six km west of the airport which includes many museums and a botanical garden, in addition to the zoo. Mexico City's two zoos are managed as one administrative unit by the city under one director, to whom both zoo directors report. The two zoos have a few things in common; neither charges an admission fee, grounds are level and — being blessed with a mild climate — almost all exhibits are in out-of-door settings. However, the similarity soon comes to an end, but the two zoos complement each other. Aragón presents a park-like atmosphere, low-key and laid back, and the exhibits are spread out. In stark contrast Chapultepec, which occupies a smaller area (14 ha), is decidedly urban; the skyscrapers in the surrounding area are reminiscent of Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. Opened in 1923, the zoo was celebrating its 75th anniversary. A massive renovation, which took two years, was completed three years ago. The zoo retains huge trees, which add a nice touch to the ambience. Every square meter of the public area is paved, and landscaping shows maximum efficiency; trees, shrubs and grass are meticulously manicured to perfection. Also, visitors do not see even one piece of wire sticking out of an animal exhibit, or anywhere. I found no clue as to what this zoo used to look like before the one big swipe of renovation.

The `new' zoo presents itself as a cohesive unit, and there exists a sense of consistency throughout its grounds. The renovation must have brought about a rebirth of the zoo. Basically designed by a team of Mexican architects, the overall theme focuses on biomes, such as tropical rainforest, temperate zone and desert. Bird exhibits are assembled in an isolated area, as are the snakes, who occupy a building which represents one of the few indoor exhibits. Under each biome there is a group of exhibit units, connected by winding walkways. In fact, very few public walkways are in a straight line. As a visitor stands in front of each exhibit unit, there is an impression of separation from the rest, which allows the visitor to concentrate on viewing. The animal space is well equipped with plants, rocks, logs and the like. Extensive use of glass partitions permits the zoo to bring animals closer to the public. Lush, green plants are utilized to the full extent, both in and out of the exhibits. Artificial rockwork is utilized discreetly in the moat and divider walls. Holding facilities are often concealed sensibly. Another fine feature of the zoo is the use of graphics, explaining not only each species but also the themes. Overall, the exhibitry is favorably impressive, representing an application of modern methods to a higher level.

In terms of animal collection, the zoo has major representatives of the `basic stock'. Gorilla, chimpanzee, orang-utan, lion, tiger, bear, elephant, rhino, hippo and giraffe are strategically spread out. One of the animals that caught my eye was the volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi), which has been a feature of this institution for some time (Hoth and Granados, 1987). The colony appeared to be thriving well. Interestingly, some common animals that are considered to be `nuisance species' in the U.S., such as raccoon, coyote and Canada goose, were given generously large areas in attractive exhibit settings. A surprised American delegate commented that the zoo had `the best raccoon exhibit' she had ever seen. In the middle of the tour we noted it was close to 3 p.m., and the tight schedule did not allow us to stay.

After the wolf conference in Durango I returned to Mexico City on 25 July, and went back to Chapultepec to finish the zoo tour. The bird section, which I missed during the first visit, appeared to form an entity all by itself, separated from the rest of the zoo. Chapultepec Zoo's grounds are well developed and quite compact, but that does not mean that animal living quarters are tight and crowded. In fact, given the limited available land, spacious enclosures are allocated for birds. A good example is a large walk-through aviary, with multi-level viewing for visitors and various sight barriers for birds. Security personnel were stationed at the entrance and exit. Some other aviaries are also immensely tall and large; an extensive use of piano wire and welded wire mesh was noted. Speaking of birds, strangely enough the ubiquitous feral pigeon or rock dove (Columba livia), one of the persistent urban nuisances, was not seen on the zoo grounds. (Later, in the heart of Mexico City's historic center, I found out that this absence was not limited to the zoo. At Zocalo, a huge square, I had the pleasant surprise of having difficulty finding pigeons; they were there, but in amazingly small numbers.)

Chapultepec Zoo is well known for the huge crowds. The annual attendance is said to be eight million; on the previous Sunday (19 July) 80,000 visited the zoo. They say that a wall of people blocks the view of the famous giant pandas. On my second visit on a Saturday, the crowd was rolling in late in the morning. However, at 12.30 p.m. I was able to watch the giant pandas easily; the staff told us that the zoo had four (1.3), and on that Saturday three were on exhibit (none of them was asleep!). As usual, a security guard was stationed by the exhibit. A visitor immediately notices the presence of the security personnel. At practically every corner there is a guard, in neat uniform and standing, not idly but watching. That may explain, at least partially, why I saw not even one visitor throwing food or any other object at animals. The visitors seemed almost all Mexican citizens, in small groups such as families and dating young people. They do not throw trash, and if they did, it would be taken care of. The McDonald's hamburger chain has conquered the world, evidenced by several stands in this zoo. Near the end of the tour I purchased a chicken sandwich for lunch, and sat down at a picnic table. Being clumsy, I spilled a small piece or two of fried potato. Immediately a senorita appeared out of nowhere, to sweep them from under the table. No wonder the grounds are spotlessly clean. Surprised, I raised both feet, to which she politely responded, `Gracias.'

While at the wolf conference I met with Mexican colleagues, and began to realize that there are more zoos in this country than an outsider would expect, just as Schwitzer (1998) noted in Brazil. After all, Mexico ranks 14th in size among the world's nations, with an estimated population of 95,000,000. Having five zoos listed in the International Zoo Yearbook (Olney and Fisken, 1995), does not seem all that much. This is not meant to be a criticism against the I.Z.Y.; it simply illustrates a part of the monumental task of keeping track of all the zoos of the world. Among the delegates at the conference was Frank Carlos Camacho from Africam Safari in Puebla, an establishment not listed in the Yearbook. He said that this park, which is a one hour and 20 minute drive from the Mexico City airport, has an annual attendance of 1.2 million, employs 330 workers and has a collection which includes 650 species of mammals and birds. Some of the delegates were treated to an impressive guide book of his park. Another zoo not in the I.Z.Y. list was within walking distance from the conference host, Instituto de Ecología in Durango..

Visitor Reviews (2)

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

Zoológico de Chapultepec, Mexico City

This is one of the four animal parks in Mexico City: the others are Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón in the east and two in the south, Bosque de Tlalpan and Parque Los Coyotes. Chapultepec, in the west of the city, was founded in July 1923 as the Alfonso L. Herrera Zoo, but now belongs to the government; it has an area of 17 hectares, and last year received 5.5 million visitors. Its collection consists of around 1,750 animals of some 211 species (mammals, birds and reptiles). The zoo is one of the most modern in the world, having closed in 1992 for remodelling on a new concept, and opened again in August 1994. The animals now enjoy enclosures that recreate their own habitats, in a series of biomes representing, for example, tropical and temperate forests, deserts, pastures and tundra. Dr Fernando Gual Sill took over as director in January 1999, having previously worked as head veterinarian since 1990. I was shown round by Dr Everardo Montfort, the vet in charge of the aviary, who has also worked there since 1990.

Just inside the entrance stands a big zoo shop, and nearby a large cafeteria. (This was the first zoo I have visited anywhere in the world which has a McDonald's catering service.) Visitors are not allowed to eat while they walk around the zoo, but only near the food sales areas, which are unfortunately very overcrowded; this rule is enforced by a security staff of about 50. The zoo also has no children's play area, and closes very early, at 4.30 p.m. All these disadvantages are the result of government policy.

To the right of the entrance is a section for desert animals with many open enclosures with large rocks for bighorn sheep, a pair of rare Mexican wolves (the subspecies which now survives in the wild only in northern Mexico, but is the subject of a reintroduction project in the south-western U.S.A.), three pinioned American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), two coyotes, many collared peccaries, bobcats, hamadryas baboons and five dromedaries. There follows a savanna section: I saw four ring-tailed lemurs; savanna monkeys; two spotted hyaenas; two open glass-fronted enclosures for African spurred tortoises (a very productive group of about 80 of different ages) and yellow-footed tortoises (Geochelone denticulata); lions; a large mixed enclosure with groups of helmeted guineafowl, African crowned cranes (two species), four giraffes (all looking like reticulata), five brindled gnus and Grant's zebras; a male ostrich; Carlos, a male black rhino about 35 years old; a male southern white rhino; three common hippopotamus in a nice large pool; defassa waterbuck, a male sable antelope, nilgai, mouflons, blackbuck, a yak, kangaroos, llamas, a guanaco, three male American bison, two female Asian elephants (Ranny and Yammy, both here since 1954) and eland. Next, the section has two very nice rocky enclosures with large underwater viewing windows for Californian sea lions and two adult female polar bears from Canada; it was good to see the bears swimming under the water. An open glass-fronted enclosure held dark grey Mexican naked dogs (`Xoloitzcuintlis').

I then went through a tunnel and came to an aviary about 20 metres high housing 1.2 golden eagles, a pair of whom were busy building a nest, and twelve more good, equally high bird of prey aviaries with two peregrine falcons, one very old Pallas' sea eagle (said to have probably arrived at the zoo in about 1960, as it was already there when the animal inventory was started on 1 May 1965), great black hawks (Buteogallus urubitinga), white-tailed, red-tailed and roadside hawks (Buteo albicaudatus, B. jamaicensis and B. magnirostris), Harris' hawks, barn owls, great horned owls, caracaras, black vultures and 1.2 Andean condors, all three bred at the zoo. The parent condors reared seven offspring in all; they arrived in about 1960–1962, but the female died this year. The father and the other four young birds are kept in the off-exhibit breeding area, which also has many breeding pairs of macaws, African grey parrots and amazons.

Other birds to be seen near the bird of prey aviaries, in arched cages with piano-wire fronts, include peafowl, ducks, doves, cockatoos, parrots, a turaco, four thick-billed parrots, an old female great Indian hornbill, a large group of Passeriformes, emus, mute and black swans, many flamingos with a nest area, and some free-flying night herons who are also active by day. A big walk-through aviary called `Aviario Moctezuma' houses only Mexican birds. Unfortunately access is very tightly controlled by the security staff, who will not allow visitors to bring in things like bags and pushchairs, and often make people angry by keeping them waiting before letting them in. This aviary contains about 80 birds, including macaws, toucans, egrets, one American white pelican, gulls, ducks and curassows.

The next section is the Holarctic region, with many white-tailed deer, American black bears (a nice enclosure), a grassy glass-fronted enclosure for the very rare endemic volcano rabbits (Romerolagus diazi — probably the only ones to be seen in any zoo in the world), pumas, raccoons with underwater viewing windows, three small glass-fronted exhibits for a tayra and polecats, a nice wild enclosure with running water and grass for a pair of brown bears (the female Balya, of the Syrian subspecies, was born in January 1994 at Berne Zoo and donated to Chapultepec in 1997), three Canadian wolves, Canadian lynx, many fallow deer, American wapitis (twin females born in 1982), another pair of Mexican wolves, tigers, sika deer, Japanese macaques (a donation from Ueno Zoo, Tokyo, in May 1997) and grey foxes. Three large enclosures with glass fronts house three spectacled bears, born at the zoo in 1997 and 1998, young emus (hatched in January 1999) and a baby northern tamandua (T. mexicana).

Also in this section are the zoo's most valuable animals, the giant pandas. The first of this species who came to Mexico were a pair donated by the Chinese government in September 1975, who died in 1988 and 1989. At the time of my visit there were four at the zoo, all solitary: a male, Liang Liang (born 22 June 1983), and the females Xiu Hua (born 25 June 1985), Shuan Shuan (born 15 June 1987) and Xin Xin (born 1 July 1990). Xin Xin, the last to be successfully born at Chapultepec, was bred by artificial insemination; her father was Chia Chia of London Zoo and her mother was Tohui, the first giant panda to be successfully bred outside China (born 21 July 1981, died 16 November 1993)

The next section, Forests, has nice underwater viewing windows for crocodiles and turtles, and two glass-fronted exhibits, one with good artificial mangrove trees for two crab-eating macaques, and another for a single mantled howler (Alouatta palliata) with trees to climb. There is a very nice large grass enclosure with natural trees for two gorillas, the 38-year-old female Mahari from Cincinnati Zoo and her son Bantu, the first gorilla born in Mexico (at Chapultepec on 20 September 1991). Several glassed cages with artificial trees and live evergreen plants house rhesus macaques, pythons, a male white-crowned mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus lunulatus — a donation from a famous Mexican musician), one greater white-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans) and 1.3 black-nosed patas monkeys (Erythrocebus p. patas). Three male orang-utans (two born at Chapultepec) and two old male chimpanzees are all solitary, and have no live plants in their enclosures except grass. Also in this area are leopards, black panthers, tigers (including a white one said to be from Memphis Zoo), a binturong, a breeding pair of spectacled bears (the male born at Jersey, the female from Vienna, but born at Tierpark Berlin), white-throated and brown capuchins, black-handed spider monkeys in with kinkajous and coatis, agoutis, pacas, brockets, jaguarundis, black and spotted jaguars and ocelots.


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