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Last year the GaiaZOO in Kerkrade was voted “the most beautiful zoo in the Benelux” for the fourth time.

We are not sure how many zoos there are to choose from, but for one tucked away in the sliver of The Netherlands encircled by Belgium and Germany, it sounds like quite an accomplishment.

On a recent cold and cloudy spring day, we went to see what it has to offer.

The zoo is divided into four sections — rain forest, savanna, taiga and Limburg, the Dutch province where the zoo is located — with the animals more or less located in what would be their natural habitats.

The GaiaZOO does have a good variety of animals. As you walk down the zoo’s paths you’ll pass lynxes, otters, wolves, beavers and wolverines in the taiga.

The savanna features lions, cheetahs, meerkats and hyenas. Zebras and rhinoceroses share one enclosure, while the ostriches, springboks and giraffes, which even have their own house with very high ceilings to accommodate their long necks, share another.

Less-exotic animals populate the Limburg section, with hamsters, rabbits, pigs, chickens and goats running through the enclosure. In parts of the enclosure little two-legged human creatures can mingle with the animals in the petting zoo.

Despite exotic birds, giant rodents, Red River hogs and tapirs, the main attractions of the rain forest are the monkeys and apes.

Black mangabeys, golden-bellied capuchins and squirrel monkeys scamper around their enclosures while red-faced spider monkeys climb across ropes high above the enclosure floor.

Fascinating to watch with their almost-human expressions are the gorillas. The leader of the group is Makula, a 23-year-old male who is also the father of its newest member, a baby male born on the last day of 2012. The baby is lovingly cared for by its mom, Dalila, while the rest of the extended family goes about its business.

The gorillas share their indoor and outdoor enclosure with other apes, making it a place of continual activity.

It is hard to imagine that the kids would get bored with the animals, but if they do, visit the DinoDome, a giant indoor playground with life-size dinosaurs models.

DIRECTIONS

Gaia Zoo is at Dentgenbachweg 105,6468 Kerkrade, Netherlands, about eight miles from Brunssum. From Brunssum, take highway N299 toward Kerkrade, exit at Kerkrade-West, turn right and you are on Dentgenbachweg. Follow signs to the zoo.

TIMES

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from March through June and September through November, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July and August, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. November through March.

COSTS

For visitors 10 and older: 18.50 euros, ages 3-9: 15.50 euros. Admission is free for children under 3. Parking is 5 euros for the day.

FOOD

There is a restaurant in the center of the park.

INFORMATION

On the web: gaiazoo.nl. Extensive in Dutch and German, but just one page in English.


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