Panorama Meet Eberhardt von Leipziger Hauptbahnhof: Prague Zoo presents its celebrities
Prague’s Troya zoo is rated as one of the best zoological gardens in Europe with huge open spaces for animals and exciting trails for visitors. The zoo celebrated its 80th birthday last weekend – opening its doors to thousands of visitors and launching a campaign that filled the streets of the Czech capital with exotic animals.
Meet Kama, Kawi, Bora, Bikira – Prague’s streets are full of billboards featuring animals large and small – an orang-utan, Malaysian tiger, gorilla or sea-lion but even lesser-known bird species and insects that most people shy away from. Some are there as the zoo’s best-known celebrities, others are up for adoption. For some years now the zoo has followed a policy of bringing the public and the zoo’s inhabitants closer – the animals have names and life-stories with the intention of making them household names and wherever possible artificial barriers have been replaced by natural ones – bringing Troya zoo as close to a safari as possible. A green oasis resounding with the sounds of nature, Prague Zoo attracts thousands of visitors daily. So how many animals actually live behind the walls of Prague zoo? The zoo’s spokeswoman Jana Ptacinska Jiratova says she can never be quite certain:
“It is quite difficult to say how many animals we have right now because every day the number is different, but approximately we have 4,500 animals and 670 species. We have a very popular adoption programme where people can adopt an animal –so anyone who wants to do that can choose an animal they like and pay for a year’s keep. For that money you get a free pass to the zoo and a postcard of your favourite animal.”
“Unbelievably successful because last year we had more than three thousand adoptive parents and we gained 3 million crowns for the zoo.”
What animals do people most want to adopt?
“Of course, people tend to go for animals that are “cute”. So people usually want suricates (meerkats), penguins, giraffes and turtles to name a few.”
Do adoptive parents get a mention somewhere?
“Yes, when you make a tour of the zoo and visit the different enclosures you will see plaques with basic information about the animals and on them you will also find the name of their adoptive parent.”
I noticed there are animal billboards all over Prague at the moment. What is that all about?
“Our marketing strategy is to present the zoo not only as an institution but also as a place full of individuals, so we have built a marketing campaign around what we call the zoo’s celebrities such as Kama our Orang-utan or Meloun our popular sea-lion.”
“We chose individuals from different species who attract visitors and have interesting life stories. For example one of our celebrities is Turtle Eberhardt von Leipziger Hauptbahnof which is quite a mouthful, but this name reflects his history. The turtle came to us from Leipzig in Germany and if you have been to the train station there you know it is a huge place – a huge building – and when you look at Eberhard who weighs 250 kilos you immediately see the likeness - he is as monumental as the said train station.”
Who else are your celebrities?
“Right now we have been giving a lot of PR to our gorilla female Bikira. She is a newcomer to the gorilla family – she came to us in December of last year and her story is interesting as well. She grew up in Stuttgart where she showed no interest in mating with the local gorilla male. So she came to Prague in search of another male – our gorilla Richard who is a very successful breeder. He has three offspring here in Prague zoo. So we decided to give Bikira a chance to see if she fancied him. She came to Prague and we now present her as one of our celebrities.”
Do you have any particularly successful breeding programmes?
“Of course, Prague Zoo has a lot of breeding programmes which are very successful. The biggest event last year was the hatching of Commodore dragons. We have a female Commodore dragon who gave us 20 eggs and from those 20 eggs we have 20 little Commodore dragons - so it was a big success. And more than that –this female has hatched four times and nowhere in the world has it happened that one female had four hatchings!”
“Of course, we constantly work on getting animals which are interesting, but also breeds which are endangered in the wild. So for example at the beginning of this year we got new iguanas from Mauritius and these iguanas are very endangered – there are a mere 80 to 100 of them left in the wild – and right now we are trying to get them to breed in the hope that sometime in the future some of them could be returned to the wild. That is one of our aims to present animals that are endangered in the wild and with the help of our breeding programmes return them to their natural habitat.”
There are critics who say that zoo animals are not happy living in captivity. What would you say to that?
“I think the most important thing is to give them a really good environment so that they do not feel they are in captivity. I think Prague Zoo is good at doing this. If you take a walk around you will see that many areas are open, enclosures are natural and the animals have great freedom of movement. What is important to mention is that most of these animals have been born in captivity. They have never known freedom, they have never known a different way of life –so it is hard to claim that they do not feel good here. So I would say that the key is to give them a really good environment, freedom of movement and take care of them in a way that is natural for them.”
“It depends on the season, but usually during the main season we have up to 12,000 visitors a day. Now it is March, when you look at the time it is 9am in the morning and we already have more than 1,000 visitors. Our record is 20,000 visitors a day that was in 2008. Per year we have 1,300 000 visitors on average.”