Burgers' Zoo is known for its eco-displays: nature reserves where animals often live in great freedom amidst thousands of plants, and visitors can experience such a habitat up close. An eco-display is designed to imitate a specific ecosystem as realistically as possible. What does that mean in practice? What are some of the characteristic features of an eco-display? What do biologists and designers need to consider when designing an eco-display? What challenges do they face? In this series, we focus on the essence of each eco-display through practical examples. This time: the Safari.
First-time visitors to the Safari are often amazed at the vast, expansive landscape and space that the animals have at their disposal. Yet, this wide panorama is the exact image that comes to mind when thinking of spotting wildlife on the savannah in East Africa. Rugged rock formations rise along the edges of the Arnhem plain, characteristic of the landscape in southern Africa and common in East Africa. Due to their rounded shapes resulting from erosion, these rock formations are known as 'kopjes' (little heads) in South Africa. We built the Safari Restaurant and Safari Terrace on this elevation in the landscape, offering visitors a wonderful view of the savannah.
People often build lodges on these natural elevations in the landscape for guests who go on guided safaris during the day and relax in these comfortable accommodations in the evening.
The Arnhem savannah is home to square-lipped rhinoceros, Rothschild giraffes, Grant's zebras, waterbucks, roan antelope, white-bearded wildebeest and East African oryx. Small elevations in the landscape allow animals to walk out of each other's sight, and metal poles separate the rhinoceros from the other ungulates halfway across the plain. Young rhinoceros sometimes pass between the poles, after which the mother often wriggles through with some difficulty. All the other hoofed animals have the entire plain at their disposal and use it.
At first glance, the zebras appear to form one big herd, but if you look closer, the group consist of several harems and, sometimes, bachelor groups. A harem consists of an alpha stallion with several mares (including the alpha mare) and their young. The stallion keeps his harem together and defends it against possible hijackers. These are often young males who have been chased out of their parental harem and temporarily form a bachelor group with fellow sufferers. When one of the alpha stallions dies or is chased away, other stallions try to steal the mares. Zebra society is very dynamic!
In antelope species, we sometimes have to temporarily separate adult males, for example, if we do not want new recruits for a while or if it is not desirable to have more offspring from a particular male. A mother and her newborn may also be temporarily housed in a separation enclosure until the youngster is strong enough to get to know its peers and other species on the plains. Housing ungulates can be quite a challenge, and separation facilities are essential. We have constructed several separation enclosures between the stables and the large plain.
We also have plenty of indoor space. Inside the stables, there is enough space to house entire harems of zebras together and separate them from the rest of the group, if necessary. In the case of the waterbucks, the males live more solitary lives in the wild, so they are kept in separate night quarters. The stables are very spacious, and we have plenty of room to expand in the future, such as if we add new species to the Safari.
The rhinoceros and giraffes have separate stables fully equipped for their respective species. In front of the giraffe stable, there is a large separation area where the bull can stay during the day or, for example, females with young who are not yet big and strong enough to be allowed on the plains. At the time of writing, we have not been allowed to breed with Rothschild giraffes for several years, as the species is widely represented in European zoos. Rhinoceros breeding, on the other hand, is progressing very well. However, the European population management programme will face an increasing challenge to accommodate all males in good zoos in the coming years. There may be a temporary breeding stop for certain animals of this species.
The Safari also includes the Felidae, characteristic of life on the African savannah. These predators must be separated from the African ungulates in a zoo, so our visitors can watch the lions and cheetahs in their enclosures from observation huts equipped with large windows. Lions and cheetahs are not particularly friendly in the wild, so both feline species must be kept in separate enclosures. Cheetahs are solitary animals, so you need extra accommodation for these graceful animals behind the scenes. When you see a group of cheetahs in the wild, it is almost always a mother with older cubs or a coalition of several adult males. The odds of survival are higher when young adults hunt together, especially just after leaving their mothers.
The Safari is a challenge in terms of vegetation, and we are looking to make further improvements in the coming years. The Arnhem region has many coniferous trees that are not native to the African savannah. When trees such as silver firs are lost in a storm or due to illness, age or drought, we replace them with more suitable, native species that are a better match in terms of appearance—Scots pine, for example, which has a very irregular growth pattern. We have also planted a number of black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia); their spines make them look as if they belong on the African savannah, but they are actually North American. We also selected several typical African plant species, such as red hot pokers (Kniphofia), for the roof garden near the "kopjes". There is still plenty to be done here in terms of flora to give the Safari a realistic East African look.
The magnificent view from the outdoor terrace of the Safari Restaurant atop the "kopjes" and the view from the wooden walkway next to the savannah make this eco-display a successful experience for our many visitors who enjoy the wide panorama and the charismatic East African animal species living in the Safari.
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