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Heidelberg: Animals enjoy natural habitats at zoo

By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 3, 2010

Should you ever tire of the charms of Heidelberg’s old town and castle, cross the Neckar and pay a visit to its zoo.

Founded in the 1930s, the Heidelberg Zoo was one of the few things in the city that was hit by bombs during World War II. It was nearly destroyed, and it was only through the perseverance of local zoo enthusiasts that it survived the war and its aftermath.

Later it lost a big piece of real estate to a new youth hostel next door, but today it seems to be thriving and, with the addition of a new elephant house, continues to modernize.

The zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals and is heavily involved with the preservation and breeding of endangered species. Many of its inhabitants are on the endangered species list.

Tucked behind Heidelberg University’s new campus, the zoo is an ideal getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Not only can you spend time with the animals, but also the paths between the enclosures weave through forests of bamboo, past trees and around shrubs and flowers, giving the place a back-to-nature feeling.

On a warm summer morning visit, most of the animals were out and about in their enclosures, with only the zoo’s Bengal tiger seemingly AWOL. An eagle-eyed visitor finally spotted him snoozing in the dense foliage of his pen.

And speaking of eagles, the zoo has a pair of Steller’s sea eagles. These inhabitants of Russia’s Pacific coast are one of the largest of the species.

In fact, birds make up a big part of the zoo’s population. Besides the eagles there are owls, flamingoes, parrots and many smaller birds, most of them in walk-through aviaries where the birds fly overhead. Some birds, like the storks, are not caged at all, and return to the zoo every year to nest.

The same goes inside the ape house, where the bigger apes like the gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees are behind glass, but overhead tiny white-fronted marmosets scamper around the trees and climb ropes suspended in between, watching visitors pass underneath. When the weather is good, most of them can be found frolicking outside in their open-air enclosures.

The zoo tries to do without cages wherever possible. Its pride of lions, for example, is separated from the public by a wall and a pond filled with a school of koi.

While you can’t feed the lions, you can feed the fish and many of the other animals. Feed is for sale at bubble-gum-type machines at the enclosures.

The lions are fed daily (except Saturdays) at 4:40 p.m., and a crowd favorite is the sea lions’ feeding at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (except Fridays). For a helping of fish, they do tricks and play games with their handler, much to the enjoyment of the visitors.

There is also a petting zoo for the wee ones, and if the excitement of the zoo hasn’t worn them out, there is a huge playground where they can romp around.

Directions: If driving, take Autobahn 656, which ends in Heidelberg, and then follow the zoo signs. The zoo is at Tiergartenstrasse 3, on the north bank of the Neckar, behind the new university campus. By public transportation, Bus 32 goes to the zoo via the main train station, Bismarkplatz and Universitätsplatz.

Times: The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily April to September, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily in March and October and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February.

Costs: Admission is 8 euros for adults, 3.50 euros for ages 3 to 17. There are also two family tickets: 12 euros for one adult and up to four children, 19 euros with two adults. Parking for up to five hours is 2 euros in the university parking lot across the street. It is 1.20 euros per hour after that. Have your parking ticket validated when you buy your zoo ticket

Food: There are two places to eat at the zoo: across from the lions’ enclosure and near the large playground near the entrance.

Information: The zoo’s website is www.zoo-heidelberg.de; most of it is in German. Some is available in English by clicking on "Zoo Compact" on the home page.

A chimpanzee seems to be wondering what the two-legged creature on the other side of the fence is doing. The ape house at the Heidelberg Zoo features chimps, gorillas, orangutans and a smattering of little monkeys.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES

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