Berlin Zoo is the oldest and most well-known zoo in Germany and, with its sister aquarium experiences more than 3 million visitors a year. The location largely contributes to the high number of visitors, as a stop for the train called “Zoo Bahnof”, named for its most popular destination. Opened in 1844, the zoo is only approximately 84 acres (34 hectares) yet calls itself home to 1500 species, totally almost 17,000 animals. The first animals were presented by King Frederick William IV of Prussia when he moved 850 creatures from his private collection to the zoo. During the second world war, the zoo was destroyed and only less than a hundred animals of the nearly 3700 present at the time, survived. Among the survivors were 2 lions, 2 hyenas, a bull Asian Elephant, 10 baboons, and a chimpanzee. While a disastrous event, the zoo was then rebuilt with more modern principles meant to create more natural and satisfying enclosures for its animals. Today, it is the most complete collection of animal species in captivity in the world.
One of the things the zoo is most famous for at the moment is the life and death of the polar bear Knut, who was born in the zoo in 2006. He was rejected by his mother at birth, so he was raised by keepers and became quite acclimated to human contact and interaction, often waving to his admirers without prompting. Knut suddenly died in 2011, too young for a seemingly healthy polar bear. Much speculation has been made about the introduction of other polar bears into his enclosure, and what affect that may have had on him. While the ultimate cause of his death was drowning due to an epileptic attack that left him unable to swim and save himself from falling into his pool, his life and death has brought much attention to the debate over whether or not polar bears should be kept in captivity. Regardless of one’s position, there is no doubt that the cute Knut, as he was lovingly called, helped interest the public in the needs and welfare of polar bears both in captivity and in the wild.
There are obviously limitless animals to encounter at the zoo, so area and habitat specific tours are offered to make that task seem less overwhelming. There are more than a half a dozen different tours, including the “Species Tour”, focusing largely on the animals which with the zoo has on going breeding conservation programs. On this zoo tour, there is also a lot of educational information on what an individual can do to help preserve biodiversity. The Asian Tour features animals from the Far East and India, including elephants, tigers, and Indian Rhinos, one of three critically endangered animals for which the Berlin Zoo is responsible for maintaining the studbooks. The other two animals include the Gaur, a type of cattle found on this tour, and the African Black Rhino.
The black rhino, a very critically endangered species teetering on the brink of extinction due to illegal hunting of the rhinos for their horns, can be found on the African Tour. Also viewed from this tour are the giraffe, zebra, antelope, including the most exotic of antelope species, the rainforest dwelling Bongo antelope, and in the center of all of it, the pride of resident lions. Equally exotic and fascinating animals can be found on the South American tour, featuring animals all the way from the Amazon to the Andes. Swamp titi monkeys and marmosets leap from branch to branch, and llamas can be encountered close up and personal. And if you are interested in learning about more than just animals, there is the Tour of Architecture, which takes a historical journey through the first buildings that were used for animal husbandry as well as other striking buildings of the past to the more open and natural habitats and enclosures in use today. Lastly, there is an Animals of the Bible tour, linking the experience of viewing particular animals with their place in biblical writings and history.
Special visits can also be arranged for more personal encounters with hippos, elephants, tapirs and meerkats. These visits cost extra and must be booked in advance.