Posts Tagged 'zoo'

Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

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Lying on the waterfront at long beach is the actually rather well hidden Aquarium of the Pacific. Exactly as with the LA Zoo, for me the great thing here was the quality of the exhibits and in particular the combination of rare species I’d not seen before, and those I’d come across at various times but never seen properly, or got good photographs. As a result, the collections here were superb and coupled with a few impressive outdoor tanks (again, the local weather means you can keep tropical species in the open air) made for an interesting collection.

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In part I did well here because the lighting seemed to be superb. Even the very dark tanks provided sufficient light I could get decent pictures (and just generally see) the species on display. In most aquariums, even the well-lit tropical tanks can be dark, so this was refreshing, but nothing was too bright, and the animals and plants did seem to be doing well, so it wasn’t any kind of negative on the welfare front.

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As with a couple of other aquariums, it really did need a few places to sit and take a breather which would have helped and later in the day it was rammed with people making it a bit awkward. Indeed this was the one thing that I had an issue with, as with any number of places, there were a couple of large touch-tanks, where small sharks, rays and some other fish roamed in shallow waters and people could interact. There were a host of staff on hand to control these and keep things gentle, but at peak times there were so many people I can’t help think the animals were stressed and at least on shark had some damage to the dorsal fin that I can imagine came from too many people stroking it as it went past.

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This really was my only issue, and at least some animals very obviously enjoyed the experience (one ray made a beeline for people every time anyone appeared at the tank) and in every case there were some out-of-bounds areas the animals could use to get away and none seemed to take advantage. Still, cutting down on the numbers at peak times would probably help a lot here.

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On to the actual exhibits though. Inside there were the usual mix of a few giant tanks with larger species and hosts of small ones and then lots of smaller dedicated selections. There was a superb deep-water area with low lighting with some great novelties – hagfish (my first), giant isopods (only seen once, partially hidden and with no good photos before), lantern fish, tons of interesting crabs, chimera, and various other oddballs and with a great mock-up of a decaying whale for them to clamber over.

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The big Pacific tanks were also superb and accessible from multiple angles and again had lots of species that were new to me. Overall there was a nice emphasis in places on invertebrates (and not just crabs) with selections of jellyfish, tunicates, ctenophores (always a highlight for me), giant sponges, various molluscs and others. There were some large animals too (sealions and seals, sea otters, penguins) and one outdoor tank had the largest sawfish and stingrays I’ve ever seen, and by some margin. There were also some more terrestrial species, as well as crested auklets (my first ones, and something I’ve long wanted to see thanks to mentioning them in my sexual selection papers), puffins, and indeed non-marine animals with various birds including in particular the super rare Guam kingfisher.

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The highlights for me were some rarely seen favourites – leafy and weedy seadragons, both present in large numbers in superb settings, and then to top it all off, a krait. Despite having been to some major collections all over the world, this was the kind of thing I never expected to see and so to have one at all (and then I was lucky enough that it sat alongside the glass for a good time) was incredible.

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The place as a whole lacks the raw impressiveness of the giant tanks of somewhere like Osaka, but more than makes up for it with the setting and arrangement of tanks, as well as the variety of species and real rarities and very special animals. It was an instant classic for me, and something I absolutely loved visiting. I could easily have gone back the next day, not because I’d missed anything, but some many species were out and active and behaving naturally, a second visit would not have been anything like a repeat or dull. I can only hope I get another chance to go again in the not too distant future.

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LA Zoo

tapirFollowing a recent trip to LA and the surrounding areas I’ve got a stack of photos and local reviews to get through. In addition to the local Museum of Natural History, I made it to the zoo, aquarium, the La Brea tarpits and across to the Raymond Alf Museum, home of palaeoblogger Andy Farke. Typically for a zoo review, I’ll try to sit back and let the photos do the talking, though there were some more things to comment on here than usual which makes a change.

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The most striking thing for me was simply the number of animals that are basically permanently outside. Thanks to the local climate, tropical species that in the UK (or indeed most collections) and would need an indoor area were year-round species. Thus alligators, false gharial, koalas, and a number of others had large outdoor areas and nary a heated room or glass panel was to be seen which was really nice and very refreshing.

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Overall the zoo was huge in area and it’s a good long hike around it and especially up the numerous hills. This was compounded by some poor signage and the fact that a number of areas are being redeveloped. It’s annoying enough that quite a few large enclosures were shut and off limits, but still more annoying that it often took me quite a long walk to get to the right are, longer to find it because of the maps, and then fit it was closed was very irritating.

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The new reptile house was absolutely superb, one of the best I have ever come across and was enhanced by the careful use of natural light for much of it (again, something that is facilitated by the location, not many places could copy this if they wanted to) and the snake collection in particular was superb. The enclosures generally were very well structured and huge (the elephant paddock is truly colossal) and there was some clever integration of them into the environments, with the aviaries on the hillsides working well.

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For me though, the best thing was the huge number of species I had not seen before. Two duikers (my first ever), gerenuk, a number of snakes, less kudu, chaco peccary, both mountain and Barid’s tapirs, and red headed uakaris. On top of that, there were a number of things I had seen before but never got a good look at, or decent photos, including giant otters, harpy eagles, giant salamanders, black and white colobus, Prevost’s squirrel and servals. Generally the zoo was a superb mix of ‘classics’ (giraffe, tiger, gorilla, elephant) and real exotics and rarities, and all superbly curated. The only real frustration was the closed areas and I’d love to go back when it is in its full splendour, but it was a superb visit and ticked a ton of boxes for me, especially on the new species front.

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Crocodiles of the World

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Morelet’s Crocodile

Recently I took a trip up to this unusual establishment in Oxfordshire on something of a whim. I’d been planning to go for quite a while but the opportunity came up and I wanted to make the most of it so headed over (so apologies to various people who I’d been muttering to about arranging a trip up there). I did not actually know what to expect really, but did know that it was a small operation and that they had lots of the smaller, and very much lesser seen, croc species. I’ll enjoy any good zoo, but there are generally only so many Celebes macaques or Asian short-clawed otters you can see, and filling in on a raft of the crocs not yet present in the crocodilian panoply made it a likely hit.

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Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman

It is indeed a pretty small outfit, but what there is available, is very well presented (the signs are numerous and excellent) the enclosures are great and spacious, and the animals in great condition and clearly breeding well and behaving naturally. It is not going to be a full day for anyone and even a reptile obsessive is unlikely to be able to spend more than a few hours there, but it is reasonably priced and thanks to numerous and well placed viewing areas, it’s almost impossible not to see every animal pretty well. Best of all, there are numerous small talks and feeding sessions scheduled for every day, so no matter when you go, there’s going to be some extra information and a chance to grill the knowledgeable and engaging staff.

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Yacare Caiman

There are a pair of macaws and several large tortoises and a few terrapins knocking around, in addition to some nice lizards (including the biggest varanids that are not Komodo’s I’ve ever seen) and a monstrous python, but obviously we are really here for the crocs. A total of 14 species are on show and most of them are not commonly kept in zoos and are hard to see at the best of times. Sure there’s a couple of American alligators, and Nile crocs and some not uncommon ones in the spectacled and black caiman, and West African dwarf croc and the endangered-but-often-in-zoos Chinese alligator. There were also more unusual ones like both Siam and Cuban crocs and a group of three salties. Then we get into the real rarities – Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, Morelets’ crocodile, blunt-snouted caiman, Scheneider’s dwarf caiman and finally the stunning Yacare caiman.

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Schneider’s Dwarf Caiman (or smooth fronted caiman)

Almost all of these were in at least pairs, and generally there were more than that. In the case of the Niles, they were in a huge pool since there were more than 30 of them (though all were only a meter or so long). Obviously most of these are small species even when they max out, but the biggest Siam and big alligator were at the 3 m mark and every big the major carnivore you expect at that scale and were very impressive. Despite the usual level of activity in crocs (especially with winter coming, even in a heated environment) plenty were moving around at least a little, and the feeding times stimulated plenty of activity, and I was able to see crocs high-walking, belly crawling, juveniles calling to their parents, some low-level aggression between individuals, and best of all, some of the Niles rocketing up out of the water to take food.

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Broad Snouted Camian

I do think people going expecting a full on zoo, or anything like a normal reptile house might be, if not disappointed, then at least surprised. This really is 90% croc, but that’s in no way a criticism, and the excellent set ups and the animals were a real joy. As someone who does like to target species I’ve not seen before, it was a real revelation, a good half dozen that were new to me, and plenty more I’d seen only occasionally (I’d not seen a Cuban croc before this year, only seen a Siam once before). Moreover with the good signs and all the animals in one place, it was really easy to compare them to one another and get a real feel for some of the differences and how they line up to one another. If reptiles are in any way your thing, this really is something that should be on a to-do list and it’s a great addition to the UK collections.

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Black Caiman

London Aquarium

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Alongside my trip to London Zoo at the start of summer, I also took a day at the London Aquarium on the South Bank. The last time I had been was not too long after it opened, probably around 1996 and I remember being fairly unimpressed. There were three giant tanks with the same inevitable fauna in them and not that much else. For various reasons I’d simply never been back and this trip was largely to see what had changed in the intervening years, not least given a recent revamp that had apparently added a fair bit in terms of additional enclosures.

Turning up, my the first impressions were worrying – originally an independent creation, it is now owned by the SeaLife Centre chain. I’m not a big fan of these, not because they do a poor job keeping and exhibiting animals, but having visited a number of them I found them to be almost carbon copies of each other. It probably works as a business model, but I used to be excited at the prospect of seeing any new collection in the UK, but these were so similar when I visited at the back end of the 1990s that it virtually was ‘one you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’ and I rapidly lost interest and had not been to one since.

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Happily, the aquarium confounded both my fears and my memories. The former perhaps offset by the existing set-up that was used to good effect, the latter because things had changed a fair bit compared at least to how I (possibly incorrectly) remembered them. This is very much a modern aquarium with a nice balance between classic things like big sharks in big tanks and tropic reef fish, local fauna (there’s an excellent section on fish from the Thames), popular exhibits like penguins and piranha, and some oddities like spider crabs and morays.

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The major new addition since my first visit is a rainforest section that has a mixture of the inevitable (tetras, terrapins) and the less usual (a Cuban croc, the first I have ever seen), though all of it well laid out and with some excellent set-ups. The place as a whole has lots of viewing spaces and some very large windows into the bigger aquaria, and actually despite being in the very heart of London, it’s not a cramped space, though with hordes of visitors and it not being the size of even a small city zoo, it was a bit of a squeeze at peak times or for the more popular spots.

My only real complaint was that there was almost no where to sit anywhere at all – in addition to simply wanting to kick back and watch the animals (especially in the big tanks where it takes time for some of the animals to come around), I’m sure there are plenty of people who are aging, infirm or with kids who just want to take a break for 5 minutes and that’s all but impossible. It’s probably a combination of the space (limiting areas for seating) and a desire to keep crowds moving, but I’m sure with a bit of thought they could generate two or three spaces for a bench or even a couple of chairs and they’d be most welcome to plenty of visitors without disrupting the flow.

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Overall this is hardly on the scale of some of the larger aquaria, but this is certainly one of the best in the UK and well worth a visit. If I had only one day, I’d still take London Zoo as my sole trip and by a wide margin, but this is not something to be overlooked and, compared to the aquaria in Europe that I have been to, is very much at the top end and will satisfy most enthusiasts.

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London Zoo

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This review is a very long time coming given how many times I have visited this place over the years. In addition to many childhood trips, I worked as a volunteer keeper here at weekends for several years and as a result know the place fairly intimately. The lack of a review was largely down to not having any accessible photos during most of my blogging past, but a visit in April this year took care of that. In many ways it makes this summary all the more appropriate since a huge amount has changed in the last few years. Although London has always undergone upgrades and renovations, some of the most recent alterations have rather starkly changed the face of the zoo and the difference say between now and ten years ago is a world away to say the different between 1984 and 2004.

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London historically has some major issues when it comes to these kinds of changes which makes the transformation all the more remarkable. Situated in Regent’s Park, it doesn’t actually own the land it is on and instead effectively enjoys rent-free tenancy from the crown, but it also means they can’t expand with public rights of way across the zoo, and the presence of both a road and canal through it, limit the footprint further and the locations of possible new builds or rebuilds. Many of the buildings are also old and creaking, making the costs of maintenance and upgrades very expensive, while prices in London for building work are obviously much greater than in many places. On top of that many of the buildings are historically important and have listed status, which means even minor changes, let alone major alterations or replacing the building, are often impossible. Put that all together with the funding crisis the zoo suffered for many years (staff were made redundant, buildings closed, animals moved on) and it’s incredible that not only are they still afloat, but have in fact been rejuvenated.

392065_n Some of the repurposing has been very intelligently done. Much of the Charles Clore Pavilion (effectively the small mammal house and nocturnal section) has been knocked together to form a single, large walk-through South American enclosure with birds, armadillos, sloths, tamandua, marmosets and others wandering freely, while the basement still houses the nocturnal animals, and the perimeter contains a series of other small critters like squirrels and tree shrews. It has totally changed the scope and style of the building, but without huge changes to the structure that would be costly, and allowing the fundamental purpose (small mammals) to remain the same (keeping staff and facilities in situ too).

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This is still very much a city zoo, meaning it is generally small but packs a lot in. One major improvement (if originally most a money-saving effort) was the removal of most of the larger animals and the zoo no longer has the rhinos and elephants of before, while things like big cats and apes are fewer in number and have much larger enclosures. Even so, ‘traditional’ species like giraffe, (Asiatic) lions, gorilla and vultures are still in residence, but the focus has turned to smaller animals in many cases when it comes to things like large mammals and birds, though the presence of Komodo dragons, tigers, hunting dogs, okapi and llama hardly means that it is all ‘tiny’ species though these are in abundance.

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For a long time it boasted the most diverse (in terms of species) collection in the UK, if not Europe, and while I don’t know if this is still the case, it must certainly come close. This is assisted by the presence of the Clore, insect house (the Millennium building), aquarium, reptile house and an aviary for small birds, and so there is a huge amount of species covered between these. While here too there are plenty of ‘traditional’ species that the public will hoover up, even to the jaded zoo go-er like me, seeing things like Congo pygmy goose, Philippines crocodile and frogmouths were all new and great to see. 198019857637_o

One can also get much closer to many animals than in many places. In addition to the Clore, the children’s zoo, two small aviaries, the giant Snowden aviary and butterfly house all had walk-through sections while new viewing platforms for the giraffe and well designed new set-ups for the tiger and gorillas give much better access (while still giving the animals privacy) than before. So although much of the zoo is still original in many ways (there are no shortage of bricks, concrete and historic buildings), and preserves its feel and tradition, it is no longer the stark and unfriendly place as it was so often portrayed in the bad old days.

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While certainly I do have a bias in all of this with my connections to the zoo, it is hard not to consider it still one of the premier collections in the world. It is a modern flourishing zoo, and given that it has maintained its position as one of the top zoos for research and conservation work (it was originally founded as part of the Zoological Society which sits in the grounds) while reworking the grounds and facilities, and housing a vast collection of important species, it is hard to find any real flaw in the place these days. No matter your interest in zoos – interesting species, common species, research, education, conservation, history and design there is something important and compelling here. Sure there are things to improve and change, but one can say that of any zoo, however good it is, but if you are a zoo aficionado, London really is one of the places to visit.

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Chester Zoo

Until this trip, my first and only visit to Chester Zoo had been back in 2000. I remember thoroughly enjoying myself then and that the place was large in scope and successful in execution. So I looked forward greatly to my next opportunity to visit and this was finally achieved last week. In general I was greatly impressed and had a great time and while there are some nit-picks coming, the experience was almost overwhelmingly positive.

Chester combines all the things that, for me, make a zoo great. There is a good diversity of species – both classics (lions, elephant, rhinos) and rarities, species big and small, covering the vertebrate spectrum and with a respectable number of invertebrates, the enclosures are big and more importantly well designed and well maintained, and the animals are generally in large numbers and uniformly well looked after and happy, and finally, the signs and educational content was good. In short, it should please pretty much everyone, from those looking for a typical family day-out to those who are after seeing new and unusual species, or school trips and the like.

Great things to see were for example the elephant and wild dog paddocks (colossal) the ape set-ups (very big, and very cleverly executed) and tropical house (a mixture of free flying birds and cages for bigger birds and various herptiles). I can’t remember the last time I saw oranges so active and so content and the chips acted as normally as I’ve ever seen. The aquarium was tiny but well stocked, and there was a dedicated butterfly house with quite a diversity in there.

The overwhelming positives were the ‘new’ and unusual species. As a veteran zoo-goer I can suffer from burn-out of Asian short-clawed otters, meerkats, Humboldt penguins and Siberian tigers. While these were not in short supply, there were lots of things less rarely seen in UK zoos like warthogs, cheetah, congo buffalo, caecelians and, yes, both tuataras and a Komodo dragon. But even for me there were several species I’d not seen before like sitatunga, giant otters, Montserrat frogs, Galapagos tortoise and rhinoceros hornbills. In short, it was hard not to be impressed and excited by the diversity of things on display.

Like many zoos that bear repeat visits, it also has some real gems. Small hidden-away enclosures or sections such that even traveling between major exhibits there will be an odd aviary or set-up with a few more birds, or local wildlife or similar so that even the walks are broken-up and there’s a chance to see something else interesting. Sure the jaguars might not be out, but there’s a tank of fish or snakes next to the main window to keep you occupied if you want to give it five minutes and hope for them to show.

The educational side was pretty good too with lots of signs. They were a bit mixed to be fair, as while there were identifiers for pretty much everything and the odd detailed signs (why to tapirs spray urine, how to zebras feed etc.) ‘basic’ info like the what the animal in question eats, where it’s from, how long they live etc. were in rather short supply. One great addition though was the regular mention of fossils and extinct relatives and in one case a few (dodgy, but well meant) sculpts of theropod and pterosaur bones to accompany these. It’s certainly very welcome to see Embolotherium and the woolly rhino mentioned in the context of the modern black and white rhinos.

As for the nit-picks one personal disappointment was the fact that the dik-diks were off show (something I’ve never seen) but that can hardly be helped. More annoying was that some of the signposts were a bit confusing and the routes between various places were not easy to follow. I had to backtrack quite often to get from point to point or cover three sides of a large building to get around it, in a zoo that size (it’s massive) it’s frustrating and tiring.

Overall though it was a great visit and for me ranks among the top zoos in the UK. Quite simply it ha a diversity of species and a level of care and enclosure set-up that all but guarantee a good visit. You’ll see lots of things, they will be active and interested and happy, you’ll learn things too. It’s hard to wish for much more than that in a zoo, though of course it’s rather harder to achieve than it sounds.

Pittsburgh Zoo

This was my first ever trip to an American zoo and I have to say I was impressed. OK, so I’d expect nothing less, but this was nevertheless an excellent day out. The layout was great, the species interesting, and as usual even for a real zoo-phile for me, there were some unique treats.

Just to get the slight bad out of the way first, a couple of turkeys, flamingos, penguins and an ostrich aside there were literally no birds at all in the zoo. I assume the presence of the aviary has a lot to do with it, but it was still a little jarring that there was nothing at all. I wouldn’t call it a negative as such, but it does rather under represent a pretty major group of vertebrates to say the least, and I can’t see how couple of enclosures would really kill them or impact on traffic to the aviary. My other very minor gripe would be (ironically) the lack of local species, or more rather there were setups for porcupine, skunk and American beaver but none of them were on show, which for me was a shame as these are things I’ve not seen before, dull as they may be to most visitors. Such is life and it’s not the major issue, but it piqued me at the time.

So onto the good, and there is so much good. The enclosures were generous and well-planned, there were some great mixed exhibits, and the layout was clever. You revisit most of the enclosures at some point, doubling back and coming across rhino or lions again from a different angle and gaining a new vantage point and an opportunity to see something missed before, and some of the environments were well stacked Hagenback style to increase the look of the thing. ‘Difficult’ animals like polar bear, African elephant and gorillas were all doing well and showing natural behaviours. In the case of the elephants, the bull was clearly unhappy about something and was giving a full on rumble – something I’d not even seen in Kenya. There’s real power in there, would could feel the room vibrate which was no mean feat given the volume of concrete involved. As for the gorillas, something unique: a pair of silverbacks. Apparently the two are twins and get on fine with each other, so the colony has a pair of dominant males.

Onto the superb and brand new aquarium. This has a strong conservation focus with an admirable record for breeding seahorses and keeps numerous corals which is no easy task. There was a colossal marine tank full of the usual sharks and reef fish, a lovely Amazon setup full of the big and bold, a nice penguin tank, a great collection of large rays and best of all (if sadly unphotographable) a pacific giant octopus nursing thousands of her eggs.

Most memorable though was the outside aquarium for sand tiger sharks. A massive enclosure with viewing ports at various levels and a walk through tunnel too, this was simply bare walls and lit by the overhead sun. The effect however, was magical. Huge animals cruising incredibly slowly and gently around the tank, barely moving their tails or fins it was silent and beautiful, not just the sharks themselves, but their shadows too and those against the stark blue walls with the ripples of light from above was worth watching in its own right.

Finally there was an exhibition centre, objectively to bring the animals closer to the public, though in reality not much more than a combined reptile and small-mammal house with numerous snakes, lizards some bats and the like. And finally a new mammal – an American possum, if looking a bit rough around the edges. All in all a great day, a great zoo and great fun.

The National Aviary, Pittsburgh

My trip to Pittsburgh was not all (non-avian) dinosaurs and Mike Habib was good enough to indulge my love of all things zoological with trips to the Pittsburgh and the U.S. National Aviary. Both were excellent days out and I got to see a bunch of new species and, always nice for me, interesting and well-designed set-ups and enclosures.

The Aviary first, and it’s an interesting and unusual place. It’s quite small (an afternoon is more than enough time) and is centred around several large walk-through rooms with dozens of species in each in the air and on the ground around you. I love these things, especially when, as here, the birds are really quite habituated to the people and are happy for you to get in close. Seeing small passerines from a distance of inches rather than feet or yards and with no glass or wire in the way is a joy. When things are done well (as here) the birds have lots of space and can travel huge distances without coming near people if they choose, or hide away in the trees and cover, but the bold can come out and get up close. I got a great many lovely shots of all manner of species (many of which were new to me) and just having things that close and available was superb.

In addition to the walk-throughs, there were a few enclosures for less-sociable (like the eagles) or more-specialised birds needing specific conditions (some of the smaller ground birds and, of course, the penguins). The aviary also does lots of rescue work and conservation, so there were breeding programs ongoing as well as things like an eagle who couldn’t fly and a pelican who looked like he’d been copying at least one pterosaur.

We also took in one of their ‘free flight’ shows with various birds flying over the audience. I was rather ambivalent towards it. On the one hand, training intelligent birds like parrots will keep them more interested and healthy, but on the other the show was (to my European sensibilities at least) all a bit tacky and tasteless, and the message they were well-meaningly trying to drive home (birds are good, conservation is important) was a bit drowned out by the music and lights. Most annoyingly of all the show wasn’t cheap for the 10 minutes it lasted – would it really have hurt to let the birds fly around a bit more?

All in all though, it was a great trip. I saw some lovely birds with real rarities and new species for me like golden plover, hammerkop, oropendulas, a new touraco, sun bitterns, dwarf bustards, Gouldian finches, Incan turns, and best of all, widowbirds. Well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

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.

Osaka Aquarium again

I’ve written before (and posted lots of photos) about Kaiyukan, the aquarium in Osaka, but on my last trip to Japan I took the opportunity to go again. In fact, I took an extra day simply to go, so delighted had i been the first time. Of course not that much had changed in the intervening years (they rarely do in such places and especially when the place is dominated by a few major tanks). Even so, there were new delights and new species to see which was a pleasant surprise. Here are some new additions and some old favourites.

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Tokyo Aquarium

The Musings is clearly long overdue a zoo review and this summer brought me to two new places to explore – the Osaka Zoo and the Toyko Aquarium. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get round to covering the former as while it was, on the whole, perfectly satisfactory, it had little that was truly novel or exciting except a giant but underused free flight aviary and then a superbly designed Hagenbeck-type African savannah exhibit. The aquarium in Toyko however, had numerous exciting and interesting exhibits and I enjopyed my visit there immensely, so that’s what you’ll be getting today.

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Beijing Aquarium

Beijing is actually home to three public aquariums, but the one I’m covering here is actually inside the Beijing Zoo, though it can be visited separately hence the separate review. It’s also big enough in its own right to warrant a separate review since it can easily occupy three or four hours of your time. It’s rather new having been open only since 2003 I believe.
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