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About Zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and education



Reviews — Zoos in Europe

Athens Zoo, Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park

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His­tory

Athens, Greece, is an extra­or­di­nary cap­i­tal city in Europe for many rea­sons. One of them is that it lacked a zoo­log­i­cal park until 2000. This changed when French­man Jean-​Jacques Lesueur, after liv­ing in Greece for over three decades, decided that Athens deserved a zoo. So Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park came into exis­tence and opened its gates to the pub­lic on 16 May 2000.

Right from the onset the Zoo applied for mem­ber­ship to EAZA (Euro­pean Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquaria), as its objec­tive was to become acknowl­edged as a zoo that met the inter­na­tion­ally stan­dards for a zoo­log­i­cal insti­tu­tion. After a tem­po­rary mem­ber­ship Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park was accepted as a full mem­ber in 2004.

Although it was ini­tially just a bird park — home to 1100 birds from 300 dif­fer­ent species, and the 3rd largest bird col­lec­tion in the world — it grad­u­ally was turned into a reg­u­lar zoo with species rep­re­sent­ing mam­mals, rep­tiles and birds of course. I

n this con­tin­u­ous expan­sion new species and enclo­sures were added such as: World of Rep­tiles in 2001; Greek Fauna in 2002; the African Savan­nah in 2003; the Big Cats sec­tion and expan­sion of the African Savan­nah in 2004; the Mon­key For­est (a walk-​through lemur exhibit) in 2005; Chee­tah Land, a chim­panzee and gib­bon exhibit, and Arid Lands (with bac­trian camel and Somali wild ass) in 2008; and white rhi­noc­er­oses were added in 2010.

These addi­tions increased the pop­u­lar­ity of the Zoo, espe­cially because they were in accor­dance with mod­ern zoo hus­bandry prin­ci­ples. In 2010, how­ever, the deci­sion to keep marine mam­mals and have them per­form in the brand new dol­phi­nar­ium, turned out to be controversial.

Attica Zoo decided that being sit­u­ated in a coun­try sur­rounded by the Mediter­ranean Sea it would serve its pur­pose as a zoo­log­i­cal insti­tu­tion to raise aware­ness about the threats that marine mam­mals face in the wild. There­fore, it estab­lished a marine mam­mals sec­tion with bottle-​nose dol­phins and Cal­i­for­nia sea lions that was opened in 2010. The pub­lic can meet these ambas­sadors for the species liv­ing in the wild in the newly built dol­phi­nar­ium. Here the vis­i­tors learn about the threats in the wild and the need for pro­tec­tion dur­ing the daily edu­ca­tional presentations/​shows. But the Greek Green Party thought otherwise:

The Greek Green Party took Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park to court claim­ing ani­mal wel­fare issues in 2011. Accord­ing the Green Party “dol­phi­naria can­not offer the space, the social net­works and the nat­ural con­di­tions that are essen­tial for the dol­phins and other marine ani­mals, hav­ing as a result the suf­fer­ing of the dol­phins, exhaus­tion from the con­di­tions of cap­tiv­ity and pre­ma­ture death.” In addi­tion the Green Party claimed that the dol­phins (com­ing from the Lithuan­ian Sea Museum) were imported with­out the cor­rect per­mits and as far as they knew no plan­ning per­mis­sion were being given to Attica Zoo to con­struct the dol­phi­nar­ium to hold them in.

In April 2011, a Pro­vi­sional Order was issued by the Athens Court tem­porar­ily pro­hibit­ing the oper­a­tion of the dol­phi­nar­ium. BBC has sent a cor­re­spon­dent to cover the story and the con­tro­versy has been pre­sented in The Sun­day Times. In August 2011, the Greek court issued a deci­sion declar­ing itself not com­pe­tent to pass judge­ment on the case. Although the zoo claimed that the case in ques­tion has been decided per­ma­nently and that the com­pany has been vin­di­cated, this deci­sion only addresses the abil­ity of this par­tic­u­lar court to decide the issue.

Nowa­days, Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park cov­ers a total area of 20 hectares, home to more than 2000 ani­mals from 350 dif­fer­ent species, includ­ing one of the five largest bird col­lec­tion in the world. Its bird col­lec­tion now com­prises 250 species, of which 29 are endan­gered or crit­i­cally endan­gered accord­ing the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™.

In the com­ing years the Zoo intends, through con­tin­u­ous devel­op­ment, to improve its con­tri­bu­tion to the the objec­tives of infor­ma­tion, edu­ca­tion, recre­ation and con­ser­va­tion. These future plans include the devel­op­ment of an Evo­lu­tion Museum with an empha­sis on the Age of the Dinosaurs (“Dinosavropo­lis”) and an Aquar­ium of inter­na­tional stature (“Okeanopolis”)


(Sources: Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park web­site; Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park guide­book; Wikipedia)

Visit(s)

25.10.2012

Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park is located on the out­skirts of Athens with sev­eral out­let stores as close neigh­bours. In this unin­spir­ing envi­ron­ment you want to enter the Zoo as soon as pos­si­ble, where the inevitable flamin­gos greet you. It is a small island in a very arti­fi­cially look­ing pond with free rang­ing rab­bits on the grassy bor­ders. From there you start nav­i­gat­ing your route through the Zoo, but what­ever route you choose you will first pass sev­eral aviaries. Going left you find the psittacines, going right the birds of prey, and straight­for­ward behind the flamin­gos you will find trop­i­cal birds.

Macaw enclosure athenszooA bit fur­ther along the foot­path pass­ing the birds of prey more aviaries are to be found. With the two walk-​through aviaries for African birds and Asian birds as high­lights. Both these build­ings could eas­ily accom­mo­date a few small aero­planes, and with their func­tional design they look like hangars. Although not very esthet­i­cal, these aviaries pro­vide the birds ample space to fly around. The same thing can be said about the large aviary for the macaws, left from the entrance. I have never seen such a large enclo­sure for these South Amer­i­can psittacines in another zoo, and as far as I know this one seems to be fit for pur­pose.

The next-​door spon­sored end­less row of com­mon aviaries for the psittacines is a geo­graph­i­cal mix of lories, conures, cock­a­toos, ama­zons, love­birds, para­keets and the odd budgeri­gar. The num­ber of bird species is impres­sive, but the psittacine cages lack foliage to my opin­ion. Fur­ther­more, most of the bird species they keep are not endan­gered in the wild, and 22 species (out of 298) have been caught in the wild, which is still com­mon prac­tice I am afraid. The good thing is the Zoo admits that it still hap­pens, but it also shows that it is all about dis­play­ing crea­tures to the pub­lic, and not exactly dri­ven by nature con­ser­va­tion efforts.

Look­ing into more detail at the objec­tives of zoos nowa­days, and the way they are addressed by Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park, it becomes clear that a lot of effort is going towards improv­ing the liv­ing con­di­tions of the zoo ani­mals and the way they are dis­played. There are works ongo­ing to extend the bear enclo­sure, and sev­eral plots have been allo­cated for future exten­sions. This is what you may expect from a zoo that opened its gate to the pub­lic just 12 years ago. There is an edu­ca­tion cen­tre where edu­ca­tional pro­grammes are con­ducted for chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages. And in addi­tion to the infor­ma­tion pan­els at the enclo­sures, the birds of prey shows and the dol­phin shows are being used to raise aware­ness and edu­cate the pub­lic. Fur­ther­more, guided tours are pro­vided and sum­mer­camps for chil­dren are organ­ised. All reg­u­lar edu­ca­tional activ­i­ties nowa­days. The con­ser­va­tion efforts on the other hand are a bit poor I think. Of course they the Zoo takes part or pro­motes EAZA cam­paigns, such as EAZA’s Ape Cam­paign of 2011. But the Zoo’s own con­tri­bu­tion to nature con­ser­va­tion is only focused on pro­tec­tion of dol­phins in nature by actively par­tic­i­pat­ing in the design of devices that will help reduce deadly injuries to dol­phins of the Aegean Sea, which are caught in fishermen’s nets by acci­dent. And on the web­site it says that they are con­sid­er­ing ini­ti­at­ing dol­phin assisted ther­apy with autis­tic chil­dren.

African savannah athenszooApart from the walk-​through aviaries there are three mixed species exhibits, which focus on geo­graph­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Zoo’s ani­mal col­lec­tions. One com­prises species from Aus­tralia (Bennett’s wal­laby, Cere­op­sis goose and emu) and another focuses on native species, wild boar, fal­low deer and Cre­tan goat (Capra aega­grus cret­ica). But one of the best enclo­sures I think is the African savan­nah. The ostrich, Grant’s zebra, Rothschild’s giraffe, Kafue flats lechwe (Kobus leche kafuen­sis) and scimitar-​horned oryx (Oryx dammah) have a very large savannah-​like plains at their dis­posal. Of course, the cli­mate is in favour of such exhibits with these type of species, but it is beau­ti­fully set in this undu­lat­ing land­scape. And the sights of the hills and the city in the far dis­tance makes it even greater.

Capuchin enclosure athenszooThe pri­mates are found at three dif­fer­ent spots. The mon­keys rep­re­sent Asia (e.g. Javan lan­gur), Africa (e.g. De Brazza mon­key) and South Amer­ica (e.g. black-​capped capuchin). It is remark­able how sur­pris­ingly low all the mon­key enclo­sures are, which could be regarded as insuf­fi­cient for the larger ani­mals such as the lan­gur and the De Brazza mon­key. A few enclo­sures have lots of foliage and pro­vide shel­ters and shade, but the lan­gurs for instance are very much exposed to the pub­lic and do not have an enclo­sure that have the slight­est resem­blance with their nat­ural habi­tat – the rain­for­est. Even worse is the enclo­sure for the black-​capped capuchin. Though large, their exhibit looks like a desert with no foliage what­so­ever and only arti­fi­cial enrich­ment is pro­vided with bam­boo trunks and ropes. Nev­er­the­less, the group seems to breed very well, as there are quite a few ado­les­cent mon­keys and newly borns on dis­play.

The mon­key for­est is located past the African savan­nah and houses ring-​tailed lemurs and black-​and-​white ruffed lemurs. This walk-​through exhibit with free roam­ing Mada­gas­can pri­mates is not a for­est at all with only one tree within the area. But for­tu­nately it has got a grassy bed­ding, shrubs and lots of enrich­ment mate­ri­als.

The apes are rep­re­sented by the Sia­mang gib­bon (lesser ape) and chim­panzee (greater ape) and can be found on the right side from the entrance in bar-​less enclo­sures. It seems that these are one of the lat­est exten­sions to the Zoo with a com­plete arti­fi­cial climb­ing struc­ture for the gib­bons as enrich­ment. I sup­pose the gib­bons would have pref­ered large trees to climb in.

Con­sid­er­ing the enclo­sures for the preda­tors, regard­less where they are housed on the premises, it can be said that except for the ocelot none of them pro­vide many places to shel­ter from the pry­ing eyes of the vis­i­tors. The preda­tor enclo­sures are rel­a­tively large, none of them bar-​less, and for the cat species high level obser­va­tion or rest­ing plat­forms are avail­able. The big cats enclo­sures (Angola lion, jaguar, puma, white tiger) all have the wall oppo­site the pub­lic painted with land­scapes that hints at their orig­i­nal habi­tat, which is fine as it hides the con­crete. At the chee­tah enclo­sure, which is located some­where else from the other big cats, a wall is miss­ing to cre­ate such a paint­ing, because it is com­pletely sur­rounded by wire mesh fences. The vis­i­tor can nav­i­gate around the chee­tah enclo­sure, nev­er­the­less the trees and shrubs pro­vide ample space for the ani­mals to hide when they want. It is sug­gested by an infor­ma­tion panel on chee­tahs at the fence of the adja­cent white rhi­noc­eros enclo­sure that the chee­tahs are allowed in this huge area some­times. This would be great enrich­ment for the fasted land mam­mal, when true of course.

Three other cat species are housed some­where else, the Eurasian lynx, Euro­pean wild cat and cara­cal. The lynx and wild cat in the Euro­pean quar­ter and the cara­cal close to other small African species such as the sec­re­tary bird, ground horn­bill, meerkat and por­cu­pine. The three cara­cals are housed in a beau­ti­ful exhibit with rocks, sand, suc­cu­lents and other shrubs.

Three of the cat species had off­spring at time of visit, the puma, the ocelot and the white tiger. The lat­ter had two cubs on dis­play of which one was very active and play­ful (see video). With regard to edu­ca­tion they say that white tigers are not albi­nos but ani­mals with a dif­fer­ent genetic con­sti­tu­tion. They for­get to men­tion that the dif­fer­ent fur colour is a result of the homozy­gous occur­rence of a reces­sive allele in the genome. And that the result of breed­ing white tigers in a zoo, which attract lots of vis­i­tors, has led to genetic defects (inbreed­ing). There­fore the Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums in Amer­ica adopted a white paper in 2011 which barred mem­ber zoos from breed­ing white tigers. More infor­ma­tion on white tiger issues here at big cat res­cue.

To see the bottle-​nose dol­phins per­form you have to pay an addi­tional entrance fee of three euro. As I am not in favour of keep­ing dol­phins in cap­tiv­ity in zoos, I skipped this part of the Zoo visit. I think rais­ing aware­ness about the need for pro­tec­tion of these marine mam­mals can be done with­out keep­ing them in cramped pools, even if you exer­cise them and let peo­ple expe­ri­ence the intel­li­gence of these ani­mals. It is too much enter­tain­ment to my opin­ion. Edu­tain­ment they call it at Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park.

Finally, although pleas­antly sur­prised by the spa­cious enclo­sures for many ani­mals, with the African savan­nah as a high­light, I was struck by the con­fus­ing way how the Zoo’s ani­mal col­lec­tions are grouped. Espe­cially when you con­sider the fact the Zoo devel­op­ment and design started just over a decade ago, it is strange you find ani­mals grouped by geo­graph­i­cal ori­gin, by habi­tat, or by tax­on­omy. For exam­ple, this leads to a sit­u­a­tion that you find the Eurasian lynx and Euro­pean wild cat on the oppo­site side of the premises from the other cats. And the two ape species (gib­bon and chim­panzee) are not housed close to the other pri­mates. This mix­ing up of species does not sup­port the Zoo’s edu­ca­tion efforts I think.

Nev­er­the­less, I spent a nice sunny after­noon in Attica Zoo­log­i­cal Park and was not dis­ap­pointed at all by what I saw. The sched­uled exten­sions are promis­ing as it will pro­vide the oppor­tu­nity to rethink the set-​up of the Zoo (the group­ing of the ani­mal col­lec­tion I mean).

Video

There are two white tiger cubs, but there’s only one play­ful. Nev­er­the­less, eas­ily bored so it looks for a play­mate. One of its par­ents act as a will­ing vic­tim, but is a bit large to prey upon for this lit­tle rascal:

This black jaguar cub wants to play and expe­ri­ences that its par­ent has one of those days that fun will not last forever:

The male Eurasian lynx knows very well that this tree is not sta­ble, yet he is giv­ing it another try:

These chimps know! When the sun sets it is bedtime:

It is always fun to watch ani­mals get­ting feeded; with these ring-​tail lemurs and black & white ruffed lemurs it is not different:

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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