Rostock Zoo

I am an animal enthusiast.

From the moment I learned how to read I would devour every animal book in the house – often more than once. My family already knows either to ask me if they want to know something concerning animals, or to completely avoid the topic, because once I’m talking, I’m talking.

Naturally, I have been to many zoos in my life and plan on visiting even more (next on my list is the zoo in Hagenbeck near Hamburg), and conveniently, I live in a city that has a zoo.

The Rostock zoo holds a special place in my heart. Every time I have visited, there has been a new animal to watch and admire (since not every animal is awake or keen on showing its face on every occasion).

Also, I like the way the enclosures are arranged, a bit of rock here, a tree there; or for the amphibians and reptiles: a bit of water, some plants, and lots of heaters.

Firstly, a bit of information about the zoo. The prices range from 6,50 to 10 Euros for children, and from 13,50 to 17,50 Euros for adults. Other tickets, for example those that are valid for a year (50 to 60 Euros) and those for a whole family (52 Euros) are also available. The zoo opens at 9am, and closes at 5pm in March, April, September and October, from November until February it closes at 4pm and from May until August, it is open for full nine hours. There are five different restaurants where you can choose from a variety of foods, and there is a place for children as well called “Kindertraumland”. You won’t have any problems finding a parking lot, although there is one very far away from the main entrance. Almost every part of the zoo is accessible with a wheelchair, and if you need help or have any questions, the staff is always ready and happy to assist you.

But now, let’s begin with the review.

Starting with the old part of the zoo, which is the part where the “Darwineum” can be visited, you sometimes don’t encounter any animal at all (except for the sea birds in their enclosure) until you get to the Galapagos tortoises. I have learned to not be discouraged by this, it’s not the keeper’s fault that otters and raccoons don’t like to show themselves; though I understand why it might be a disappointment if the sea lions and seals are not jumping out of the water.

The “Darwineum” is a very spectacular building, it connects the theories (yes, plural!) of the beginning of life with Charles Darwin’s famous theory of evolution, has a multimedia presentation on how our moon emerged and developed, and holds an unbelievable amount of information on animals, ecosystems, eras, and cytology. All very interesting, if you have the time and concentration to read it all. The managers of the zoo surely meant well, but if you’re there with children or people who are not the least bit intrigued by biology, it is difficult to read every sign and label.

When you get past all these microorganisms, insects, amphibians, and reptiles,  you are slowly prepared for the evolution of the human being. Again, there is very much to read and explore in that exhibition.

The next bit is just as interesting – our closest relatives, the apes. The Rostock zoo holds gorillas, orangutans, and smaller monkeys which live together in a large indoor and outdoor area. Every time I walk through the area, I’m reminded of how strikingly alike we are – and I always admire the patience of the apes when they try to get food out of a container, making attempt after attempt until they are convinced it’s not going to work with the tool they’re using, at which point they immediately go and look for another.

I would give up after two or three tries, but gorillas and orangutans are masters of the art of perseverance – and the keepers do a good job of keeping them occupied.

If you’re lucky, you might also see the two newborn orangutans with their mothers in tow – happily climbing and swinging and balancing on the branches and ropes.

Moving from the “Darwineum” to the other side of the zoo – the new part – you might want to rush to see the lions, the jaguar, – and the snow leopard, – but maybe you’ll be surprised at how long you will stand at the enclosure inhabited by the meerkats. They are just too adorable, and make up for the lack of impression the lions made on you (what do you expect, they are big cats who like to sleep) and the absence of the jaguar (once I saw him very close to the glass window, a rare sight since he normally doesn’t go where the humans are).

Around the adjacent section of the historic part of the zoo, there are a number of little houses holding several snakes, insects, amphibians, mini mammals, – and birds, – the whole animal world on a smaller scale. Also, prepare for cute sloths and alligators in one building.

The highlight of the zoo, without doubt, is the “Polarium” which opened in last September and currently holds three polar bears. I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to see one polar bear, let alone all three, but I was over the moon at witnessing one just happily splashing in the water near a glass window, another one sniffing and pushing a bucket around the enclosure, and the other one just rolling around in mud, playing with a traffic cone. I couldn’t believe my luck – normally polar bears are very private, shying away from human contact, and they usually don’t live in groups. But the two females seem to get along fine, one of the keepers said, adding that they regularly rotate between having the females in the front of the enclosure and the male in the back reserve and vice versa.

The “Polarium” is similar in structure to the “Darwineum”, presenting lots of information about the Arctic (the natural habitat of the polar bear) and also a dozen aquariums with jellyfish that just look hilarious. In one of these aquariums, which I thought was empty on my first visit of the “Polarium”, there is a Giant Octopus – though not as giant as you would think, the body is only slightly larger than a human hand, even if the tentacles are long. I discovered it on my second visit and decided to call it “Frank” (even though I don’t know if it’s a male or female, or if it already has a name). And every time I go there now, “Frank” is in one particular corner of his aquarium, and looks a bit like he’s smiling.

Another must-see in the zoo is the renovated enclosure of the Humboldt penguins, lively little fellas whether swimming, standing, or talking to each other, and unbearably adorable when it’s feeding time (though you really have to watch out for the seagulls on the lookout for fish).

My personal highlight, although all of the animals are just lovely, is the cheetah pen. This is because out of all the others – lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars – the cheeetah is definitely my favourite wild cat. There are three or four in the zoo, I have only seen three at a time, and two of those were born in 2015. I would have loved to have seen cheetah cubs, but a big photograph of the mother and one cub is right next to the cheetah’s house, so that has comforted me a bit.

It is difficult to visit every reserve, enclosure, animal house and exhibition on one day, but I did it once. It requires a lot of planning, depending on which feeding you want to see, how long you can bear to stand at the pens – sometimes camels are just camels – or if you really want to read every sign pinned to the fences, and see every single animal (which I have not yet managed, a lot of animals just like to hide or are active at night).

Apart from that, whenever you decide to go to the zoo, you will find what you are looking for. I went in October, November, December, and January, and every time I found something new and exciting to look at, saw “old friends” of mine (the mouse house is really something else), and could watch the feeding of the sea lions and seals (really, the keepers are outdo themselves, how they can even distinguish one seal from another, I don’t know).

Once some of my family went with me, I think I overwhelmed them a bit with my recitation of random facts about almost every animal we encountered. But then again, I am an animal enthusiast, and every zoo visit just encourages me to learn that bit more.

So, if you’re looking for an experience that is educational and fun, you are very much welcome at Rostock zoo. If you want to have a nice, relaxing day and just wander about, the zoo is where you go (don’t bring children, they cannot grasp the concept of ‘calm’ and ‘don’t touch’).

From my point of view, there is just one thing that I would like to see changed: I would appreciate information about how many animals of one species live in the enclosure, and whether they have names, and how you tell one from the other (I have only seen it with the apes, but not any other animal). I know that it would be ridiculous to have such a sign on the African Giant Cricket or ant terrarium which are both in the “Darwineum”, but it would add so much familiarity to all the others, and I could even live with “Frank” not being called “Frank”.

All in all, the Rostock zoo is always worth a visit, even on rainy days. For me, it holds uncountable treasures, experiences, memories, and exciting things, and for you it might hold the possibility of a happy day or the first sighting of a snake with two heads.

And if you really must bring your children, put them on one of the playgrounds scattered across the area, or buy them something to eat, there are plenty of possibilities to choose from. I’m sure they’ll entertain themselves on the pirate ship next to the polar bears.

Jule Viereck

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