After a multimillion-euro (dollar) makeover, the Zoological Park of Paris, also known as the Zoo de Vincennes, is re-opening its gates to the public. The park aims to be a twenty-first century zoo, whose priorities are animal well-being and conservation. Visitors will be able to observe animals in environments designed to be as close to their natural habitat as possible.
The Zoological Park first opened its gates in 1934, with concrete landscaping, and traditional cages to house the animals. The zoo temporarily closed in 2008, because its crumbling displays that had not been renovated since the parks premiere opening had become a safety hazard. The zoo said that after a makeover at the cost of 170 million euros ($234 million), it will be able to house the animals in conditions that are as natural and stress-free as possible.
Instead of re-building the park in its original form, the zoo decided to take a modern approach by preserving the animals’ habitat, while at the same time giving a unique visitor experience. Zoo Director Sophie Ferreira Le Morvan, said that “Now visitors are being invited to the land of animals to immerse themselves in their natural environment. So the whole work was to rebuild, to recreate the natural environment of the animals.”
The displays consist of winding pathways, lush vegetation, and rock barriers, rather than cages, to separate the wildlife from its viewers. The cathedral-like greenhouse as long as a football field is filled with tropical birds, such as grey-winged trumpeters, and West Indian manatee.
“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 Zoological Park. “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.”
The zoo is also aiming to create a more natural series of “biozones,” with replica habitats for tropics, forests and grasslands in South America, Africa and Europe where the animals will be housed. Instead of by type, the animals have been grouped by five regions of origin — Madagascar, Patagonia, Guyana, Europe and Sahel-Sudan, the largest single area in the zoo and home to African savannah roamers. Rolling terrain and artificial rocks point to the effort to re-create the natural ecosystems, as best possible. Giraffes and ostriches co-habit one display area, zebras and rhinos another. A male lion, somewhat understandably, has his own pen until three lionesses arrive. “It’s like a journey around the planet,” said Le Morvan.
Geographer Jean Estebanez, a specialist in “humanimal” relationships, said that “the zoo reflects a push towards animals to be seen not as a resource but as fellow species. The tendency in modern zoos is not to show animals hauled out of a different environment but to place us in the different environment itself.”
The zoo’s curators have also taken animal welfare into account in their selection of species. Due to space constraints, there are no longer any elephants, or bears featured at the zoo. The modern outlook takes the animals needs into consideration, therefore, including such range-loving animals in the confines of a city zoo would be deemed as cruelty.
The zoo has some one hundred and eighty species — including seventy-four birds and forty-two mammal species — totaling over one thousand animals – aside from the insects. The zoo said that it will also carry out scientific research to help protect threatened and endangered species. “We hope that visiting this zoo can raise awareness of the protection of nature,” says Eric Joly, director of the zoo’s botanical gardens told Le Figaro.
Although, the Zoological Park of Paris re-created the park to ‘appear’ like the animals’ natural landscape (and it certainly sounds like a step up from most zoos), the fact is the animals are still living in a human-made environment, and therefore, they are not ‘free’ to live their lives as nature intended. Animal advocacy groups are already not buying into to the zoo’s new approach, and their reasons to hold animals in captivity. “Pretending that zoos have a direct role in the preservation of nature is a sham,” said Jean-Claude Nouëts, president of advocacy group La Fondation Droit Animal, Ethique et Sciences. – Joan Reddy
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