Former Olmense Zoo reopens with major improvements


Now known as Pakawi Park, the zoo in the Kempen, once rife with problems, has improved its infrastructure and now conforms to animal welfare regulations

We bought a zoo

Following a closure of nearly two years for breaches in animal welfare regulations, the former Olmense Zoo – now called Pakawi Park – re-opened this week. The animal park in in Balen, Antwerp province, is under new management.

The zoo, the third-largest in Flanders, was shut down by animal welfare minister Ben Weyts in 2017 following a decade of problems, including too little space for the animals and not conforming with regulations regarding enclosures. Despite several warnings and fines, zoo owner Charel Verheyen did not create any lasting structural changes at the zoo, which was originally opened by someone else in 1980.

Earlier this year, Verheyen sold the zoo to his son, Wim, and to cinema owner Tommy Pasteels. They have invested in improvements to the park, making the changes necessary to conform to Flanders’ strict animal welfare regulations. They also changed the name to Pakawi Park.

These investments benefit not only the animals but also the visitors and the owners

- Minister Ben Weyts

“It was love at first sight,” Pasteels told Het Nieuwsblad about the first time he saw the zoo. “I love animals, and I’m an entrepreneur. I have a clear vision for the future of Pakawi. We are heavily investing in it. The bison have already moved to the new ‘bison forest’, and in a few months we’ll open a new tiger enclosure. We’re also working on plans to improve the chimpanzees’ habitat.”

The park celebrated its Grand Opening at the weekend, and minister Weyts was present to see how the park has evolved. “In terms of animal welfare, they are now conforming to requirements,” Weyts told VRT, “but they are also looking to the future, and I want to absolutely support that. That means more investment, but it’s clear that that benefits not only the animals but also the visitors and the owners.”

Pakawi Park is home to some 1,000 animals, including big cats, primates, bears and elephants. It is open from 10.00 to 19.00 every day.

Photo courtesy Pakawi Park