The Berlin Zoo, with its breeding programs designed to preserve many endangered species of wildlife, is widely regarded as one of the greatest zoos of the world, At the end of World War II, however, the then 100-year old Zoo itself was with only ninety-one of its nearly thirty-eight hundred animals still surviving!
Set on 86 acres (35 hectares) in the Tiergarten’s southwest corner, the Berlin Zoo opened in 1844, with animals donated from the private collection of Friedrich William IV. When it was first built, however, the Zoo actually stood outside the city walls, so didn’t generate much public interest.
That has certainly changed.
Today Berlin's Animal Park has more than 1700 different species of creatures from A-ntelopes to Z-ebras, and every conceivable creature in between! The three-story Berlin Zoo Aquarium, which has insects and reptiles as well as fish and other marine animals, was built in 1913. It contains a rainforest replica too!
Nearly all of the Berlin Zoo’s structures were destroyed by World War II bombing, however, and finding the funds to replace them during the difficult post-war years was a great challenge. Thanks to support from the citizens of Berlin, the Zoo was eventually restored, and today has more animals than any other Zoo in the world. It also draws more tourists (3 million in 2007!) than any other European zoo.
Most of the Zoo’s animals are lucky enough to live in open-air habitats recreating the homes they would choose for themselves in the wild. My favorite way to enter this wild wonderland is through the southern Elephant Gate (Elefantentor), a fantastic pagoda supported by two reclining pachyderms! (Parents beware: the Zoo also has a sculpture of two elephants engaged in mating, and your kids may have some questions about it! ;-)
The Berlin Zoo’s most valuable animal is Bao-Bao, its giant panda, which is on permanent loan from China and is being used as part of a breeding program with other captive pandas. Bao Bao was also the most popular Zoo resident until the birth of Knut, a polar bear, in 2006. Rejected by his mother, Knut was raised by zookeeper Thomas Dorflein and became the first polar bear cup in more than three decades to survive past infancy at the Zoo. Knut’s plight aroused so much public sympathy that he became a global celebrity, and a line of Knut-related merchandise earned the Zoo nearly €5 million ($6.3 million) in 2007!
However, the Zoo has much more to offer than its two “superstars.” Just five months after Knut was born, they were blessed with a baby hippo, Paula. You can view her gliding through the water in her underground pool.
An even more blessed event, however, might have been the arrival of a litter of eleven “Good Luck Charm” piglets in December of 2008. An old German tradition from the 16th century says that the birth of this breed in mid-winter is a sign of a great year ahead!
I think the first thing most visitors will be impressed with is the layout of the Zoo. It’s had to be very creatively designed in order to fit all those animals into a relatively small space while still allowing room for paths and benches! You’ll come surprisingly close to the animals during your stay, so if you fancy being less than a meter from a rare bird or deer, or stroking a penguin, this is the place to do it!
I also love the petting zoo, even though it’s really meant for the kids! I sometimes lose track of time when I’m feeding the baby animals, but have learned to watch out for head butts from the greedier sheep and goats.
Also, I advise bringing a map because there are no signs marking the best way to take in all the sights. Reserve at least half a day to do the Berlin Zoo justice, simply because there is so much to see!
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