Antwerp launches Zoo of Tomorrow revamp
Work will start in the autumn on the Antwerp Zoo’s new Savannah zone, which will bring visitors and animals eye-to-eye
Up close with nature
One of the key features of the zone will be a restaurant with space for up to 400 diners in indoor and outdoor seating areas. With large windows on all sides, the restaurant will be the perfect vantage point to take in the Savannah below.
Under the restaurant is a canyon-like walkway that leads visitors through the Savannah over three levels. Next to it will be a combined bird and buffalo habitat, which is domed at a height of between seven and 18 metres. While restaurant patrons will have a perfect view of the 150 birds in the habitat, the walkway will give visitors the chance to see eye-to-eye with the Cape buffalo. “We want to enhance the experience for the visitor and their interaction with the animals,” explains director general Dries Herpoelaert.
Much of the land for the Savannah zone has come from the demolition of houses along the western side of Ommeganckstraat. The zoo has gradually acquired these houses over the past 30 years and the space will add about 10% to the park’s total area.
Realisation of the Savannah also includes renovations to some of the zoo’s historic buildings and a new wall along Ommeganckstraat. The wall completes the closed garden concept that was defined in plans for the zoo that were drawn up in 1861; Herpoelaert calls it the “Mother Plan” for the site.
The raptor aviary, a protected monument that has been removed during construction, will be placed against this wall and next to the new restaurant. Customers should enjoy the colourful and noisy flock of macaws that are set to replace the raptors.
A home for researchers
Opened in 1856, the zoo’s stunning Egyptian temple will be restored to its original splendour. The giraffes and zebras will be combined in a larger enclosure to create a naturalistic African-savannah landscape. Other structures to be renovated include the llama, pig and rhino buildings.
We want to enhance the experience for the visitor and their interaction with the animals
One of the most beautiful elements of the Savannah zone is the renovated bovine building, which becomes the home of Zoo Academy – the zoo’s new knowledge centre. “We hope the academy will become a valuable resource for European and international zoology researchers,” says Herpoelaert. The bovine building will also provide an interactive exhibition space and an outside square with plenty of seating.
Where possible, the zoo is installing alternative energy sources such as heat pumps and solar water boilers to minimise its environmental footprint. Rain from the roof of the restaurant will be collected and used throughout the zoo for cleaning and watering of plants.
The Savannah zone is expected to be open to the public by the end of 2015. But works at the zoo will not stop there. Future plans include moving the main entrance back to form a public square and renovating the existing Flamingo restaurant to create a new entrance and shop.
What’s new right now?
Antwerp Zoo is run by the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (KMDA), which also operates the Planckendael animal park in Mechelen and the Serpentarium reptile zoo in Blankenberge. In 2013, more than 1.6 million people in total visited these attractions.
We hope the academy will become a valuable resource for researchers
KMDA’s 2020 Master Plan for Antwerp Zoo has been in progress for a number of years, and there are plenty of new things to see in 2014 as a result. The zoo is getting ready to welcome squirrel monkeys and spectacled bears, which should be on show to the public by Easter.
Hippotopia has been transformed in a naturalistic manner that blurs the lines between animal enclosure and visitor space. A wooden walkway leads through the swamp, providing great views of the hippos, tapirs and other animals in their environment.
By the summer, the zoo expects the renovation of the century-old aquarium to be complete. One of the first of its type in the world when it opened in the 19th century, the aquarium will be updated and returned to its former glory. Work is also progressing on the giant coral-reef aquarium, which should also be completed by the summer.
One of the most interesting developments for visitors will be the new voederbabbels (feeder chats) delivered by staff as they feed the animals. The approach is designed to provide a deeper understanding of the zoo’s wide and ever-growing collection of animals, birds, fish and insects.
Photos courtesy Zoo Antwerpen
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