FRANCE

New Paris zoo aims to revolutionise the way humans look at wild animals

'Bio-zones' makeover leave sit up to the animals if they want to be seen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 12:47am
AFP

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Paris Zoo reopens its gates tomorrow after a six-year revamp to shed its image as a traditional city zoo and change how humans see wild animals.

And it is the animals that will decide if they want to be seen.

Swept away is the zoo as a place to view animals as weird, exotic or dangerous, replaced by an environment designed to appreciate their character in bigger, less-crowded enclosures.

"We've invented a new zoo, whose concept is different from 20th century ones, where animals were exhibited like in some amusement park," said Thomas Grenon, head of the National Museum of Natural History, which manages the Vincennes Zoo.

"This is a 21st century zoo, which will show biodiversity and talk about it, and where the animals will live together as they do in their natural environment."

As far as is practical, of course. No zoo, especially in a city, can fully replicate savannah or Antarctic conditions.

But the new Zoo de Vincennes, after a makeover that cost €170 million (HK$1.81 billion), says it will house animals in conditions that are as natural and stress free as possible.

In one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by an urban zoo, it creates five "bio-zones," with replica habitats for tropics, forests and grasslands in South America, Africa and Europe.

Its pride and joy is a rainforest, set in a cathedral-like greenhouse, 100 metres long, 16 metres high and 40 metres wide, with tropical birds.

Visitors will walk along the edge of the "bio-zones" on a path. And whether they see animals will be up to the creatures.

"We have put an end to the old ways of pushing animals out to the edges of their enclosure to entertain the public," zoo veterinarian Alexis Lecu said, explaining that the animals would have hideouts into which they could retreat if they preferred.

Located in Vincennes Park on the eastern edge of Paris, the zoo was a hallowed feature for much of the 20th century.

Famous for a 65-metre concrete mountain at the foot of which baboons used to scamper for food, the zoo was a favoured destination for school children, courting couples and families.

It was closed in 2008 as the wear-and-tear of seven decades started to show, and the animals were shipped to other zoos.

The thousand animals of the new zoo are almost half the total that were put on show when it first opened in 1934.

"There are the photogenic favourites - lions, giraffes and rhinoceroses - which everyone associates with zoos, but there are also less visible species, like anteaters and wolverines, for which you will need patience to see," Lecu said.

Elephants and bears are no longer part of the line-up, with the new thinking being that it would be unkind to include such range-loving animals in the confines of a city zoo.

The spacious wolf enclosure has secret spaces for food to be hidden, thus helping to ease the boredom of animals geared to hunt, and the lions have a heated rock on which to lounge, an important comfort of the savannah.

All of the animals, 74 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 21 reptiles, 17 amphibians and 15 fish, have been bred in captivity.