Osaka Zoo

Having cleared out, as it were, the backlog of my biological expeditions in Japan, it seemed worthwhile finally putting fingers to keyboard about the Osaka Zoo. I recall not being that impressed by the place but looking back over my photos there’s plenty in there that I did really like. Ultimately it was a zoo in transition with a large number of obviously new enclosures, well designed and offering an excellent environment to the animals and the public.

However, there were other parts that were in pretty poor state, and while admittedly a number of these had few or no occupants, some were really not good (the various monkeys and many of the big cats being the obvious ones). This reminded me on Antwerp zoo when I visited (many years ago now) which was equal parts superb and mediocre. That said, given the good in Osaka, I rather got the impression that things were simply being dealt with as and when the money became available. Thus I’d hope that a return visit a few years from now would see the end of most, if not all, of the bad stuff. I have sympathy for this problem, rebuilds cost a fortune and naturally the animals have to stay somewhere while the old place is demolished and the new one built, or while the funds are being accrued. So while there is much that can be improved, much is already good and the quality of the new additions bodes well for the general trajectory of the place.

The zoo is really in the heart of the city, and while attached to a major park is not really in it – rather like the London Zoo in fact. In size it’s not huge, and there are large spaces between some areas and as noted, some major sections (like the waterfowl) had very little in them. As such, despite its footprint, it doesn’t take too long to cover – only a couple of hours really.

Onto the good – and some of this is excellent. The flamingos, rhinos and hippos all luxuriate in superb new enclosures. The tigers and chimps were in good spaces as were the deer and sealions among others, and the good collection of bears were generally fine. There was a truly magnificent free-flight aviary the biggest, and arguably best, I’d ever seen, though rather let down by having very little in it – just a few dozen egrets and some storks and ducks. There was also a nice little nocturnal section and a huge hall to house three koalas though for no obvious reason at all, photos of the latter were not permitted.

The two real highlights were a new reptile house and a Hagenbeck-style African savannah. The former opened with a really nice mixed exhibit of American alligators and turtles and moved onto the usual fare of various herptiles though all of which were nicely done. The finale was a large open-plan hall which was well planted and with various free birds in the air. Set into the walls were a number of tanks for a variety of species, with some more open-plan sections housing tortoises and others. All together a rather clever use of space and mixture of animals.

Zoo aficionados will know the name of Carl Hagenbeck and his revolution in zoo design. While most of his best work was done in Germany, not many of his original layouts and designs survive, though his legacy certainly lives on. Hagenbeck was especially famous for producing clever landscaping effect. From the right vantage points cunningly places walls and moats would vanish leaving the viewer to see things as, apparently, a single large enclosure housing multiple species. In this case the main paddock housed giraffe, eland, ostrich and zebra, with one swampy end also being home to some Marabou stork. Running free inside and out were a collection of guineafowl, but the disguised barriers meant that all of these appeared to share this with both lions and at the other end, a spotted hyena. It was superbly done, and in addition to the actual plan, it was well set up with excellent viewing areas, and space for the animals.

3 Responses to “Osaka Zoo”

  1. 1 Christopher Taylor 05/11/2011 at 10:12 am

    I read a very interesting book on Hagenbeck a couple of years ago (Savages and Beasts by Nigel Rothfels). Other than his work on zoo designs, he was also known for his ‘people shows’, where a group of people from some exotic part of the world would be brought to Germany, where they would be set up in some mock-up of their home country. The public would them come and view them living as they (supposedly) would back home. The book’s author argued that the air of ‘authenticity’ striven for in the people shows was significant in shaping Hagenbeck’s perspective towards animal display.

    Back when I was in high school, I went through a period of reading a lot of Gerald Durrell. He tended to be pretty scathing of the Hagenbeck-style new zoos, which he thought usually emphasised what the public expected of the animal’s environment rather than what was necessarily good for the animals themselves.

    • 2 David Hone 05/11/2011 at 10:23 am

      I’m a huge fan of Durrell’s writing and what he achieved. And certainly he did everything with zoos (worked, collected, designed, ran) and knew his stuff. However, i do think he could be a bit overcritical of things appealing to the public. As an ideal it’s nice, I’m happy that zoos should exist for the sake of protection of species, conservation, education etc. rather than conservation – I’m rarely unhappy that I can’t see an animal becuase it has a nice place to hide.

      Still, we are not in an ideal world and zoos need money to run and that requires appealing to the public. And as there are some animals which won’t be affected by a set-up like this, why not use it. I’d not recommend it for things that need good places to hide or are nervous etc. but when a good African display like this largely requires a large open expanse with some fences or ditches, why not use it to integrate a few other species and make a nice show of it. *If* it’s not detrimental to the harm of any of the animals or their care, then i don’t see the problem. In this case, i think they managed that.

      Hagenbeck was a bit exaggerated in his layers upon layers type designs like this, but he still pioneered the concept and did help bring animals out from the heated concrete and brick boxes and into the air and real space, and I think that’s a pretty good thing overall.

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