Arnhem zoo puts animals in natural settings
Where else, on just 111 acres, would you be likely to find a genuine jungle with a humid tropical rainforest, a desert of flat lands and canyons, an ocean with a coral reef, and four restaurants serving everything from pancakes to hamburgers?
Burgers’ Zoo near Arnhem, the Netherlands, is the place. It is the first zoo in Europe to place animals from Antarctica to Africa in relatively natural surroundings — never behind bars and sometimes close enough to touch.
The zoo, just northwest of Arnhem, offers a bit of a respite from the bustling burg where the human species manages its own type of wild life every night. It’s about a 15-minute drive on well-marked roads from the city center to the forested heart of this captive animal kingdom.
Creator John Burgers built the zoo’s first exhibits in 1913, although many of the originals have since been updated. The only downside to some of the older exhibits is that the Dutch signage lacks English translations. However, English brochures with maps are available at the ticket office.
Throughout the years, zoo managers have added more and increasingly elaborate exhibits, some re-creating entire ecosystems.
Burgers’ Safari features a 300-yard skywalk allowing visitors to look down on an African savannah where zebras and giraffes mingle. Farther along, leopards, lions and tigers live in separate enclosures protected from humans by glass walls.
Burgers’ Bush is a three-acre tropical jungle hall, complete with high humidity and a waterfall tumbling into pools where manatees and capybaras — the large South American rodent — swim. Pink flamingos glow in the shade and other tropical birds hop along the path, barely caring about getting out of the way.
In 1994, the zoo added Burgers’ Desert, where Joshua trees reminiscent of Southern California’s famous national park grow. Big Horn sheep scramble over manmade rocks, and birds favoring arid environments sit on flowering cactus and yucca plants.
The newest exhibit, Burgers’ Ocean, re-creates a tropical coral reef replete with iridescent anemones and schools of silvery fish shining like angling lures. The Darth Vader-like wheeze of the pumps creating rhythmic, natural wave action echoes throughout the exhibit. It’s quite relaxing when screaming kids aren’t making echoes of their own.
In one portion of the “ocean,” visitors can walk through a clear Plexiglas corridor and look up at giant rays and toothy sharks gliding by overhead.
Scattered between the ecosystem exhibits are all the animals one would expect to find in any wild animal park: gorillas, chimpanzees, kangaroos and reptiles.
As with most zoos, Burgers’ is a great place for children. Much of the terrain is hilly, however, so most parents bring strollers or rented ones from the zoo.
The zoo is large enough, however, that amorous couples don’t seem to have any trouble finding a quiet bench to share.
Plenty of restaurants, snack bars and coffee shops are scattered throughout the park so visitors can take a break and buy lunch or eat their own picnic.
Restrooms are clean and plentiful as well.
The only thing Burgers’ Zoo really requires from the visitor is plenty of time to wander through its massive grounds. It’s well worth it, if only to look a crimson cardinal in the eye or listen to a living ocean breathe.