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Tiergarten Heidelberg (Heidelberg Zoo)

Address Tiergartenstr. 3
How to Find it:
Open: April – September open 9-19 October – March 9-17
Prices: Adult: 8DM, child 4 DM, old people, students etc. 5 DMs
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals Conservation
Birds Enclosures
Reptiles Education
Amphibians Recreation
Fish Research
Total 0 0
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This critique last updated:  Jan 2008

Official Description

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Visitor Reviews

This review reprinted from ZOO! Magazine with kind permission.
For information on how to subscribe to ZOO! click here.

Heidelberg stands roughly halfway between Frankfurt and Stuttgart; two cities with zoos that are well known and loved by aficionados everywhere. Heidelberg also has a zoo, but this receives little attention compared to its famous neighbours. However, just as the tallest ostrich might attract scant notice if it were flanked on either side by Dinornis moas, I wondered whether Heidelberg Zoo was being overlooked simply because bigger and richer zoos lay enticingly to both north and south. Thus, when an opportunity arose to judge for myself, I set off without preconceived opinions to bring you this description and verdict.
    You can see this zoo's first animal exhibit before you even purchase your entry ticket: a tradition shared with several other German collections. As with Tierpark Berlin-Friedrichsfelde, this 'public window' on the zoo is a bear enclosure. In Heidelberg's case, Syrian Bear [only one individual seen] supposedly share a home with Corsac Fox [no individual seen], though I'm unclear whether both species have access at the same time. Their enclosure, though not the biggest, is also by no means the worst bear accommodation I've encountered, and I was hopeful that at least a similar standard would be maintained once one actually got inside the zoo. Alas, this hope was on occasion not fulfilled. Frankly, though this zoo has some good bits, there is room – and need – for substantial improvement.
    An early warning sign comes when the lady at the entry kiosk informs you that there is no guidebook. This is quite unusual for a German zoo, and Heidelberg has produced guides in the past. Maybe this is just a temporary situation that will soon be remedied. A rather poor photocopy of a map is given out gratis in lieu of anything more substantial. A glance at this confirms that Heidelberg does not have a Reptile House, Aquarium, Insect House, or Small Mammal House. Though this zoo is not dissimilar to Frankfurt's in acreage, the scope of its collection is far smaller and restricts itself to mammals (of mainly monkey-size and above) and birds.
    Turning right on entry, the first exhibit is a walk-through aviary for wading birds and gulls. Again, this is not especially large but is quite well done. Most of the species within are of European origin – Avocet, Oystercatcher, Common Curlew, etc. – but Inca Terns are also present along with a fellow South American, the Grey Gull Larus modestus. A dull-coloured gull is not a bird likely to attract the attention of the average visitor, but in fact this is a very interesting species. It makes its nests in the inhospitable wastes of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, as a means of avoiding predation of eggs and chicks. The parent birds take turns to make fishing trips to the Pacific coast, which can be up to 60 miles away. Life is presumably a bit easier in Baden-Wurttemberg, with a short hop to the feeding dish!
    On exiting this aviary, you next encounter a block of small, old-fashioned cages for members of the felidae – Leopard Cat, Ocelot and Temminck's Golden Cat. These are not the zoo's finest features and need replacing as soon as possible. I am not one of those people who say that the only acceptable cage size is “I can't see to the other side”, but neither am I an apologist for inadequate standards. Let us be clear in allocating Heidelberg's cat cages to the latter category.
    Moving on, and better accommodation is found for Maned Wolves which have a pleasantly verdant enclosure. Next come paddocks for Crowned Cranes and Southern Ground Hornbills, and then one of Heidelberg's larger exhibits, the Afrika-Anlage (Africa Enclosure). This consists of a house (which visitors can enter) providing indoor stabling for ungulates, and a sizeable area of outdoor hard-stand. Damara Zebra, Greater Kudu, and Blesbok share this exhibit with some Marabou Storks. At the time of my visit two young Blesboks were in evidence inside the house, their mothers seeming rather nervous of attempts by Homo sapiens to get close looks at the calves.
    Near to the Afrika-Anlage is the zoo's main bird section. This is not a bird house, but a double row of aviaries viewed from a semi-shaded walkway. There are some unusual species to be seen here and, being an ardent bird-addict, I found myself spending more time here than in any other single area of the zoo. Australian Brush-turkeys Alectura lathami are exhibited; these being the largest of the megapodes or mound-builders. The White-throated Magpie-Jay, Calocitta formosa from Central America, is another welcome sight. Last issue our Editor singled out this handsome corvid for mention in his report on the Gladys Porter Zoo, and it is indeed a most striking passerine, seen all-too-rarely in aviculture these days. Also exhibited here is the Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen – which despite its common name belongs in a different family from the true magpies. A curious mixed exhibit features Green-cheeked Amazon Parrots sharing the
ground floor of their aviary with wild cavies, Cavia aperea. These cousins of the humble 'guinea-pig' seem to be rather popular in German zoos currently.
    Leaving the bird section, one comes next to an animal that holds no special place in my heart: the Asian Elephant. It never ceases to amaze me how some people will enthuse wildly about these big grey 'hunks with trunks', and yet be totally immune to the charms of birds, fish, reptiles…. or almost anything else. Still, it is not the aim of the present article to explore the mental aberrations of the aesthetically-bankrupt(!); let me just say that Heidelberg's basic and unimaginative facility for two cow elephants is not likely to make new converts to the Cult of the Pachyderm. 
    Still, better elephants than emptiness, which is what comes next. Or, to be precise, a wooded corner of the zoo which is devoid of animal exhibits. I'm not advocating chopping down these fine old trees, you understand, but it should be possible to tastefully integrate some smaller exhibits into this section. Following the path onward, the waterfowl lake comes into view with its mixed flock of Chilean, Greater and Rosy Flamingos. The risk of hybridisation when keeping related flamingo taxa together has been demonstrated here: two Rosy x Greater chicks had hatched shortly before my visit. Besides the flamingos, there are White Storks, Common Cormorants and various duck species to be seen in this area.
    Opposite the lake are several ageing and dingy cages, some of them no longer in use, but a couple still holding small carnivores: Raccoon, Jungle Cat, and another specimen of Golden Cat. Nearby is the main Carnivore House, which is normally open to the public but was closed during my visit due to the recent birth of some Sumatran Tiger cubs. I can't read much German, but a notice fixed to the outdoor tiger enclosure seemed to be promising a bigger and better facility for these cats in the near future, which will be very welcome. There are also lions on display which are labelled as being Asiatic, but which don't look like the pure Asian Lions that are seen in the UK nowadays. Does any reader know more about the origin of these particular animals?
     Alongside the Carnivore House is what must originally have been a traditional bear pit. Though this is – thankfully – no longer inhabited by any members of the Ursidae, I do think Heidelberg could have done a bit
better than stick some Crested Porcupines into it. The rodents look out of place in the barren enclosure, which hasn't been 'softened' very much with substrate or other furnishings. One can only hope that the porcupines are filling a temporary role, and that something better is in the planning stages for this exhibit.
     Continuing on our circuit, we now encounter a small number of ungulate enclosures. It is always nice to see Malayan Tapir and Warthog, whilst Gayal – those sturdy domesticated descendants of the noble Gaur – are one of the few domestic animals that I have any time for in a zoo. An exhibit which the map says should hold Onager turns out to hold ponies – now there's a retrograde step if ever I saw one! A pair of White Rhinos and a group of Bactrian Camels complete this section.
     Pinnipeds next, with a fair-sized pool for South American Sealions, and behind it a smaller pool which was looking seriously overcrowded by its contingent of eight Common Seals. Close by is a modern walk-through aviary for Waldrapp, and an adjacent (non-walkthrough) one for European Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and Scarlet Ibis. And then comes the Ape House….
    Oh dear, there's nothing like a typical German ape house for getting my ire up! Why, I ask myself, has the German zoo world been so slow to adopt satisfactory conditions for their anthropoid apes? The provision of substrate seems still to be regarded by some as a dangerous heresy, fit only for the bekloppt English. Do German zoo directors feel their apes will keel over dead if presented with an outside enclosure of more than twenty square metres? At least Cologne has now moved forward on this aspect of primate husbandry, but even zoos as (generally) good as Stuttgart still cling like starving lampreys to the 'clinically-clean' approach. So perhaps it is no great surprise that Heidelberg's facility is a Teutonic horror, and I will do it a bigger favour than it deserves by quoting the words of John Adams – a far more generous and sympathetic soul than I – to describe this feature of the zoo: “The ape building was very much typical of a 1970s style German ape house, built when it was still considered necessary to keep the apes inside for long periods of the year, and thus also necessary to accommodate a large number of visitors inside the building. So a robustly constructed and easy to clean building with more space for visitors than the animals, and planting in the public areas to create a pleasant looking environment [was built].”  The Chimpanzees and Sumatran Orang-utans have access to small
outdoor enclosures, which are grassed but otherwise bare. The Orangs' enclosures are wired over, which at least gives them something to climb about on, but the height of the cages is totally inadequate. The indoor dens have the popular 'termite-mound' style of feeders, to make the animals work for some of their food, but on the whole this place left me cold.
    Other primates fare no better than the apes. A building referred to as the 'Monkey and Bird House' did not contain any birds, as that side of the house had been emptied: whether for renovation or demolition I know not. The other side of the rectangular construction still holds a row of indoor dens linked to smallish outdoor runs. These are occupied by Lar Gibbons, Hanuman Langurs, and – surprisingly – a pair of rare Roloway Monkeys. These guenons had arrived quite recently from the zoos of Paris and Mulhouse, and are thought to be the only Roloways presently in a German collection. This is, of course, a subspecies of the familiar Diana Monkey. Originating from the Ivory Coast and western Ghana, it is now classed by the IUCN as 'critically
endangered' – meaning that there is a strong chance it will become extinct in the near future. This grim situation has been brought about by a combination of hunting for the bush-meat trade and logging of the forests.
    The final piece of primate accommodation is a featureless concrete pit holding a group of Rhesus Monkeys. A few dead branches provide the only furnishings, and again one is forced to wonder why so little effort or imagination has been employed here. Near the monkeys is a dilapidated row of owl aviaries, some of them wisely abandoned but others still pressed into service, and holding species such as the Striped Owl and the lovely Milky Eagle Owl with its distinctive pink eyelids.
    The last section of the zoo is given over to a children's playground and some enclosures for various pet/domestic species…and the odd Emu. There is a somewhat scruffy and unkempt air about parts of this collection, and although there are signs of renovation work going on, it will take a generous injection of imagination, as well as capital, to bring this place up to the standard of many other German city zoos. At the present, for visitors to Germany with limited zoo-visiting time, I cannot recommend that Heidelberg be made a priority destination.

This review submitted by Niels Johs. Legarth Iversen April 2001

To get to this zoo, take bus 33 from the Hauptbahnhof. It is a modest provincial zoo, somewhat dated in certain respects, but there are also several nice things to say about it. When I visited the place in March 2001 a large area to the left just inside the entrance was closed due to renovation projects, and there were several other such projects in other parts of the garden. Some sections already have been through the process, – I guess this includes the small walk-through aviary just to the right from the entrance. It is made with quite simple means (a beach, a fisherman's house and some water), but gives a good impression of a coastline somewhere in North Western Europe. Beyond this you pass a pelican pond with pelicans (pinkbacked?) and arrive at a very modest elephant house with two female indian elephants. Turn left, and the flamingo lake can be studied from the benches in a curved pergola. A wet March morning is not the right time to judge this, but in summer I am sure it will be pretty. From here you arrive at the carnivore house. There are Sumatran tigers and Asian lions in here. Turn left, and you pass Malayan tapirs and white rhinos. When you have reach the other end of the garden you fand the apes in a round, quite new state of the art building.Walking left you find the old monkey house, but during my visit it was half closed due to a much needed renovation. However in the still-populated cages you find a rare monkey species from the Ivory Coast: Rolloway's monkey (an inconspicuous black tree-dwelling monkey with a long tail). The zoo claims that only 26 individuals of this species live in captivity (heaven knows where) and that something like a thousand survive in the wild. The area between the monkey house and the entrance area is closed off, so you have to walk left towards the center of the garden. Here you find a long row of cages with owls, maybe a dozen cages with as many species. The days of encyclopedic animal collections are over, but I still like to see a comprehensive collection like this of some special type of animals, and for a zoo the size of the Heidelberg Zoo a showcase collection of owls is a very sensible choice.


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