Situated in the heart of the city, Barcelona Zoo is a lush 13 hectare facility featuring around 4000 animals from 400 different species. Beginning with a collection of animals donated by a wealthy banker in 1890, the zoo went public in 1893. The first director, Francis Darder, was somewhat progressive for that particular era in his ideas about animals in captivity, focusing on conservation and breeding animals in captivity long before those ideas became the norm for accredited zoos. Early on, he had the notion of returning some animals to the wild and the first efforts of that was returning 45,000 fish to their native range in Catalan rivers.
From opening until today, the Barcelona Zoo has gone under several transformations in an attempt to continue to improve the quality of living for its animals, despite its limits for expanding due to its location in an urban environment. Both in 1929 with the funds brought in by the World Expo being held in the city, and again in 1956 enclosures were restructured to reflect more of the natural environment of each individual species. In 1960, the zoo was the first to build a “dolphinarium” in Europe, and to this day is home to four bottlenose dolphin. Nika, Leia, Anak and Blau perform four shows daily. As the bottlenose dolphin populations in the region have dwindled to only three small family groups on the Catalan coast, the zoo is also involved with the European Endangered Species program (EEP) to breed captive bottlenose dolphin.
The Barcelona Zoo is most famous for “Snowflake”, the only albino gorilla to have ever been discovered. Snowflake arrived at the zoo in 1966 after being captured in the wild, and became a very popular ambassador for the zoo and the city. Although Snowflake passed away in 2003, he inspired an amazing and educational habitat and learning center at the zoo called “Espai Goril.les”. Home to a family of Western Lowland gorillas, the exhibit also features an exhibition on the life and history of Snowflake, information on how gorillas live and communicate, and the true dangers that they face in the wild that may ultimately lead to extinction. Snowflake’s worldwide popularity has helped raise awareness of the need for protection of his wild cousins, and this is definitely an exhibit for which to make a little extra time.
There are many other great exhibits at the Barcelona Zoo, and they can be viewed on foot, or from a train that goes around the zoo or even hire an electric buggy to explore the sites. There are African Elephants, cheetahs, red kangaroos, and lions as well as very unique creatures like the striking Scimitar horned Oryx, an almost all white antelope that has been completely exterminated in its nature range. The horns of this animal are stunning, curving back in an arch and can be up to 4 feet long! Zoos that have had great success with breeding this animal are in the process of returning small breeding herds to its natural range in Tunisia and Senegal. Another attractive antelope species at the zoo involved in a similar reintroduction program is the smaller Addra Gazelle, and the Barcelona zoo is a key player in preservation of this beautiful white and red creature as well.
While the larger primates are always exciting to watch, the tiniest primates can be equally entertaining and can be found at the Titi Gallery. Seven different species of small monkey’s, including the fuzzy-headed cotton top Tamarin, the striking golden lion-maned tamarin and the pygmy marmoset. Other primates at the zoo not to miss are the Barbary Macaques monkeys. The Barcelona Zoo calls itself home to a family of these popular animals, but also helps run an offsite rescue for individual monkeys that were confiscated after being sold as pets on the black market. It is estimated that more than 300 macaques are sold in the region in the illegal pet trade each year, but at the zoo they live and play in a space created to reflect their natural environment and are great fun to watch.