Pairi Daiza Zoo

Sleeping Tasmanian devil

My most recent zoo outing was the Pairi Daiza collection in Belgium. I’d not actually heard of this place until finding a flyer for it in a hotel in France but was drawn to its claim of having won two ‘best zoo in Europe’ awards (from who I don’t know) clearly being very large and the fact that it has somehow passed me by. I managed to have a chance to go recently however so made the trek out to it and found what must rank as one of the strangest collections I’ve ever been so, so strap in for a pretty long and detailed review.

First off the basics, the animals were numerous, generally well cared for (though a couple of terrariums in the reptile house were poor and one alligator was rather badly overweight) and in good set-ups. There was lots of space and with well managed environments and the animals appeared to be doing well.

Young gharials

As usual, it’s worth touching on some of the more interesting and rare animals since these days going to a zoo and seeing a lion on Celebes macaque doesn’t really do much for me (or I suspect, many of the readers). So, I got to see blesbok, rufus hornbill, Tasmanian devils, and potoroos (all wonderful), a displaying Bulwer’s pheasant (amazing), Spix’s macaws (well, sort of, they were in nest boxes but I could see a bit of one) and best of all, gharials! Only a pair of very young juveniles, but still an utter delight to see and something I’ve been after for many, many years.

There were lots of other cool things too (especially on the bird front), giant pandas, lots of pheasants, parrots and touracos, shoebill, bird of paradise, spotted hyena, cock of the rock, hummingbirds, couscous, and a really wide selection of classic big things (giraffe, rhino, hippo, apes) as well as less-often seen ones like moose, bushbuck and various vultures. There was a lake with lots of wild waterfowl and then sections were partitioned off for the seals and penguins which was nice, and then a good reptile house and aquarium, and several walk-through sections, but here is where things start to get odd.

Potoroo

The zoo is fundamentally constructed in a very odd manner. It is absolutely huge and built mostly up the side of a huge hill, and it is signposted badly when meant for a very long day (more than a few shades of LA Zoo). There’s lots of bizarrely wasted space such as a walk through tropical house with a massive waterfall and lake and a rope-bridge over it, but no fish or other animals in the water or on the little islands in the middle. It looks nice, but there’s no animals to see in that part, they’re all at the other end. There’s big laws which clearly are in part there for corporate events (there were a couple on, even at the weekend) but it only adds to the spacing out between exhibits. Much more than that though, huge chunks are given over some kind of tribute to the homelands of various animals. There is, for example, an absolutely huge and basically full-sized Thailand temple on top of the hill. It’s utterly huge and very detailed, but, and this is quite crucial, it’s not part of the exhibits. It’s not a huge façade to the elephant house, or is the small mammal house, it’s literally just a huge replica of a temple. There’s a Chinese one next to the pandas as well, and a fake warehouse with a real seaplane in it and canoes next to the bears and moose. It’s basically a huge amount of land taken up with a very expensive (and really quite faithful) replica of major buildings.

Similarly, the aquarium is themed around captain Nemo’s Nautilus with steam-punk type copper piping everywhere and gas lanterns etc. and even a control room with a very poor mannequin propped up again a steering wheel. The reptile house is built inside a mock Victorian steam ship that’s sinking (the whole thing is built on a slant) with the theme of the animals escaping from their containers. There’s even a fake lighthouse over the seal pond (which at least houses an icecream stand but otherwise seems to be functionless).

Blesbok

It’s all just set dressing, and while it mostly looks nice, I really can’t see the point. It must have added a colossal amount to the cost of the zoo and takes up a monstrous amount of space and it really adds not that much. These reviews as a whole are coming from a place where I’m both a huge animal enthusiast and someone who has been to a lot of zoos. I absolutely recognise that things that appeal to me as a visitor may not appeal at all to the average zoo goer but I’d hope I have enough empathy to know why they love seeing elephants and ring tailed lemurs even when I’m more interested in elephant shrews and ring tailed cats. But here’s the thing, the visitors (and there were many) didn’t seem that bothered by it either. They were mostly looking at the animals and the small sections of pseudo-museum exhibits there were plugged into a couple of these were completely empty. I really can’t fathom why they would do this, and it only adds to long walks to get from section to section and confusing detours when trying to get past them.

Bulwer’s pheasant displaying

The zoo was also rather expensive to get into (more than London Zoo by a margin which obviously suffers in part from being in London) and then the carpark was a lot on top of that. Given that it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere in the country where land is cheap, and there’s no other real mechanism of getting there (I didn’t see any bus stops or any public transport coming or going) this seems an utterly unnecessary and mercenary addition.

So, how to sum up? It’s an amazing collection with lots of great exhibits and a mix of the ‘traditional’ animals and lots of real rarities and things that would appeal to even rather jaded zoo goers. But it’s a huge amount of ground to cover and the huge and badly signposted gaps between exhibits is frustrating and coupled with the price and inaccessibility means it’s not a trip for the casual visitor (unless you already live in rural Belgium).

 

3 Responses to “Pairi Daiza Zoo”


  1. 1 jalnl 22/10/2019 at 10:15 am

    “its claim of having won two ‘best zoo in Europe’ awards (from who I don’t know)” – it’s from the “Diamond ThemePark Awards” (see also here: http://www.diamondthemeparkawards.com/nl/over-diamond-theme-park-awards/dtpa-awards-2010-2018/awards-2017-2018/resultaten-awards-2017-2018, unfortunately in Dutch only).

    • 2 David Hone 22/10/2019 at 11:04 am

      Ah thanks for that, I did wonder. Im always rather suspicious of awards unless they come from some sort of governing body, I’ve seen several zoos ranked and declared as ‘best’ in various categories according to their Trip Advisor scores and while this clearly means they are popular, it dones’t necessarily make them very good in terms of key things like conservation work or enclosure design.


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