Prague, Czech Republic
Prague Zoo was rated by Forbes as one of the top 10 zoos in the world in 2007, and more than a million guests visit this zoo in Czechoslovakia every year. The zoo has an extensive history of conservation and breeding success of many endangered animals, and has been instrumental in saving the Przewalski horse, an animal completely extinct in the wild until it was reintroduced to Mongolia. It has not been seen in its other natural range in China since 1966.
The idea of starting the Prague Zoo originated in 1881, but the zoo opened to the public 50 years later with its first featured animal a female wolf named “Lotta”. Soon followed were two Przewalski horses, and a pair of tigers. Within a year of arriving, the tigers produced a litter of cubs, beginning a breeding program of breeding endangered species that continues today. The zoo is over 111 acres, and houses 4600 animals or more than 600 species.
In 2002, there was a massive flood that greatly damaged the zoo and many animals were lost. Shortly after, major renovations began at the zoo, with new modernized habitats and world class enrichment for the animals. One of the major losses of life included a gorilla named Pong that was cared for personally by the zoos director, Petr Fjek. As a result, the new state of the art gorilla enclosure actually has an evacuation tower that the gorillas have been trained to use if they hear a siren. Despite the extensive damage caused by the flood, the efforts of the zoo workers saved over a thousand of the nearly 1200 animals onsite.
Beginning in 2004, major work went into new exhibits and revamping the old ones at the zoo. The owls have a new aviary, and the gorilla pavilion was built and is one of the most immersive ape exhibits in the world. The Amur leopards exhibit was expanded to include 4 pools, as was the Siberian tiger exhibit. In the tiger enclosure, a large pool close to the viewing area was added so guests could watch the water loving cats splash and play up close. Another animal with a big pool to enjoy are the hippos, and their exhibit is complete with an area to view them swim from underneath! The Indonesian Jungle and Monkey Island are other fun exhibits no guest should miss.
When a guest arrives at the zoo, it is a good idea to check what the schedule for feedings and interactions for the day, as there are one of the best ways to get up close with the animals. And the list of animals to see interact with their keepers is quite extensive: Feedings include aardvarks, penguins, camels, hippos, Przewalski horses, moose, and on certain days even some of the big cats. A guest can also watch while keepers use reinforcement training with lemurs, fur seals, coatis and many other animals. This type of training helps keep the animals calm and approachable when check-ups or veterinarian care is needed.
There are also films to view at the zoo, including The Blue Planet, but show times may vary. And there are talks, including “What Are Lemurs?” and “The Hunter and Their Skills”, featuring predators. There is a wooden footbridge from which to not only view the Asian Elephants, but learn about their plight in the wild from interactive panels along the way. Some of the panels even chronicle the cultural history of elephants and humans living and working together in India.
“Our Nature” is a part of the zoo where there are animals that are from the local environment that have been brought in by guests. Many of these animals need first aid, or rehabilitation, and some cannot be returned to the wild. This area of the zoo is also where up close interactions with some small animals, including ferrets and raccoons. Other things not to miss are the viewing train that can take you around the zoo and the individual chair lifts that offer a unique way to view the animals and is quite fun for older kids.