Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world, opening in 1843 on a mere 4 acres of land in the heart of the city. Quickly growing to its current 26 acres, the zoo has provided a green landscape in the midst of a bustling city for both locals and tourists alike. The zoo also has provided a venue for cultural events as well, from concerts to hosting some of the sports of the 1920’s Summer Olympics.
Although a relatively small zoo, Antwerp was revamped after World War II with enclosures that were very modern for the time, and took great consideration for the comfort and well-being of its animals. Since 2006, the zoo has taken awards for its buildings and facilities for the use of sustainable building practices and environmentally sound use of resources. Today the zoo is home to 5000 animals from more than 900 species, and is involved in several breeding programs of endangered species, including the Bonobo, a highly endangered primate that is man’s closest living relative. The Antwerp Zoo also holds the EAZA’s studbooks on the Bonobo, the golden lion Tamarin, the Black European vulture, and the Congo Peacock, and is actively involved with the preservation of the Przewalski Horse, formerly complete extinct in its native home.
There are many exciting animals to see at the zoo, and both historical and modern enclosures in which to view them. The oldest of the enclosures, the Egyptian Temple, is one of the original buildings constructed in 1856 and earned the zoo an award as the “Best Preserved 19th Century Zoo” in 2007. Today, the exhibits around this historical monument feature Asian Elephants, Baringo Giraffe, and odd yet beautiful Arabian oryx, an endangered species of antelope from the Arabian Peninsula. An exciting fact about this white, long horned antelope is that this species was completely extinct in the wild until 1980. Due to the conservation efforts of accredited zoos around the world, a breeding population was reintroduced to its native habitat, and now there are about 1000 animals living in Saudi Arabia, and nearly 6000 still in captivity. This beautiful, unique animal is a living example of collective conservation efforts in action.
The ape house was built in 1958, one of the first structures to go up after World War II. It is one of very few places in the in the world to view Eastern Lowland Gorillas in captivity. Far more endangered than their Western cousins, with less than 4000 surviving in the wild and about 24 in zoos worldwide. The Eastern Lowland Gorilla is the largest species of gorilla and the males can reach 550 pounds as adults. At Antwerp zoo, there are also the Western Lowland gorillas, and a family unit of Chimpanzees that call the ape house home.
Nocturama was built just ten years after the ape house, and features all kinds of night animals including two-toed sloth, tamaduas, slender loris, Egyptian fruit bats and the diurnal aardvarks. Other modern exhibits not to miss are the small monkeys, the penguins and Alaskan sea otters, and the Hippotopia exhibit featuring not only hippos but tapirs, and birds as well.